Friday, 07 July 2017

Blondel

Approaching its half-century, this Tim Rice show about the crusading minstrel leaves our reviewer wondering

Written by Richard Barber


As regular readers of The Lady will know from the recent interview with Sir Tim Rice, his musical, Blondel, originally conceived with andrew Lloyd Webber nearly 50 years ago, is that rare animal: a project that didn’t become a global hit for the all-conquering duo.

It did all right when it finally saw the light of day in a rejigged 1983 production starring Paul Nicholas and Maria Friedman, running for almost a year at the Old Vic and in the West End. It then popped up briefly at a North London Theatre in 2006 and now here it is again at the intimate Union Theatre in Southwark. Richard-Barber-colour-176

There has been some finessing along the way – a few new tunes from Mathew Pritchard to add to the late Stephen Oliver’s replacement score, a reorganisation of the book with the help of Tom Williams – and so now we have Blondel MK III, or is it IV?

I can’t tell you if it’s better than the previous versions because I didn’t see them. What I can say is that this incarnation is unlikely to transfer to the West End. It’s pleasant enough and there are some good tunes with witty lyrics (as you’d expect) but it can’t really make up its mind what it wants to be. It’s sometimes very silly – nothing wrong in that – but alongside a semi-serious sub-plot involving our hero’s protofeminist girlfriend, Fiona.

The story couldn’t be more simple. After rather a lot of over-extended scene-setting, a wandering minstrel (who, likewise, couldn’t be more simple) sets off to the Crusades to rescue Fiona and, inter alia, the captured King Richard holed up in a dungeon somewhere in Europe. Back at home, the king’s evil brother, John, is doing his best to get the crown on his head while the cat’s away.

Connor arnold as Blondel, Jessie may as Fiona and James Thackeray do their stuff and there’s a quartet of monks who crop up now and again as a sort of camp Greek chorus. But it is Neil Moors as Richard who gives the standout performance of the evening while Michael Burgen has some fun as a killer on the loose. His assassin’s song is one highlight; No Rhyme For Richard is another. My solution, for what it’s worth, is to go the whole hog and turn it into a 12th-century Spamalot. As it is, it’s neither one thing nor t’other.

Blondel is at the Union Theatre, London SE1 until 15 July. Box office: 020-7261 9876 or www.uniontheatre.biz 


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