Knightmare Live

4:56 pm in Featured, Review by Luke Freeman

Image courtesy of Knightmare Live

“Welcome, watchers of illusion…”

At the start of Knightmare Live, as with the original 1987 hit children’s show, the first question you ask is “where am I?”, the respectable answer is still “you’re in a room” – cue cheers from Knightmare fans. Specifically though, it’s 27 or so years later and you’re watching an enthusiastic team of comedians, performers, and a nervous audience member, cleverly bringing to a ‘prop-filled’ stage a cult children’s TV show that used to be heavily dependent on blue screen.

The original TV show was way ahead of its time. Broadcast from 1987 – 1994, the programme comprised of teams of four children with one as a sightless ‘dungeoneer’ blinded by the Helmet of Justice. The dungeoneer was audibly guided by three team members through blue screens rooms which unfolded as adventurous, computer rendered, medieval environments. The team’s interaction providing instructions such as “side-step left”, and casting spells by slowly spelling out words, made the show both entertainingly tense, and satisfyingly educational for parents. Bound together by a cast of exciting characters such as legendary Dungeon Master ‘Treguard’ and villain ‘Lord Fear’, the show’s talented cast improvised immersive theatre; constantly steering unpredictable children and testing technology to provide TV viewers with something rather special.

Image courtesy of Knightmare Live, photographer: Sophie-Louise Bachnick

Image courtesy of Knightmare Live, photographer: Sophie-Louise Bachnick

 

Knightmare Live originated as a successful Kickstarter project for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It is a faithful tribute and comedic stage show continuation of the TV programme, with all the rights obtained from the original’s creator Tim Child. The classic Knightmare logo glows bright, the original intro music sending hearts pulsing. We are greeted by familiar characters, albeit with unfamiliar faces, but it’s the cast’s special performances where Knightmare Live hits its stride. The 500-strong audience has trusted the show with a precious slice of their childhood, and rather than deciding to solely repeat and ‘cash in’ on nostalgia, the show extends our enjoyment, asking tongue-in-cheek questions of the original, and bravely branching off into its own fun story.

The shows cynical humorous tone is identified early: “When someone says ‘you’re in a room’ it’s really going to kick off”. The fourth wall is about as non-existent as the TV show’s blue screen creatures. Treguard (Paul Flannery) and Lord Fear’s (Tom Bell) relationship with the audience is funny, engaging, improvisational, and pantomime. The show is a ‘good vs evil’ tale, we’re encouraged to root for our chosen dungeoneer as they quest deeper and deeper through dungeons seeking treasure. We the audience gasp as they dodge spinning blades and goblins, boo Lord Fear’s appearances, and call out to assist with puzzles – if only our yells could have penetrated the TV back in the day – it would have saved many a young dungeoneer’s life…

Image courtesy of Knightmare Live, photographer: Sophie-Louise Bachnick

Image courtesy of Knightmare Live, photographer: Sophie-Louise Bachnick

 

Naturally, the biggest gameplay is experienced by a lucky audience member, who is completely immersed by becoming the protagonist of the show: the dungeoneer – complete with the coveted (and blinding) ‘Helmet of Justice’. Whilst the helmet’s visionless qualities on the TV show were required, this time around with the blue screens replaced by a stage full of dazzling props it seems cruel to deprive our dungeoneer of the spectacle they are contributing too. However, such a twisted quirk is the comic tone that Knightmare Live cleverly captures. Also with our Dungeoneer ‘blinded’ their experience and surprise is entertainingly genuine, and the audience are presented with all too familiar displays of painfully fun Knightmare scenarios, “side step left…THAT’S RIGHT! I SAID LEFT!”

The idea to leap from the big blue screen to a small stage of props was bold, and could have easily provided a bone of contention for a show originally so fondly remembered for TV virtual reality. But Knightmare Live unfolds well on stage as a chaotic adventure, with colourful characters and puzzles immersing us into the realm of dangerous dungeons. Actually, there is never any real danger gameplay-wise (not that you would believe it from the gasps at the arrival of the impressive spider prop). This time around our dungeoneer is no child, their team mate guides are adults too, the harsh computer graphics are now hand-controlled props. But this safe, structured gameplay is a worthy salute to its origins in children’s TV, and a calculated narrative all in the name of comedic entertainment.

This adventurous show is aware of everything, confidently mocking the original TV programme’s more bizarre traits, but saluting its brilliance. For fans of the 80s/90s TV show your precious memories are in safe hands, and Knightmare Live is a must see. For those new to the franchise you’ll certainly miss out on a lot of inside jokes and unfortunately the well crafted nostalgic notes, however you are accounted for and will follow the fun narrative, gameplay and puzzles with no problems.

Both entertainingly clever and suitably silly, Knightmare Live is the culmination of the efforts of hard-working, and most importantly – passionate group of talented individuals. Props, costumes, scripts, and performances are all ambitiously in place, and on cue to thankfully deliver the greatest episode of Knightmare ever.

For future Knightmare Live dates in 2014 click here.