A couple of oafish knights, an evil imp, a hamster and a narcissistic narrator set the stage in Director/Writer Jestika Chand’s musical adaptation of the British children’s show, ‘The Big Knights.’
Despite its short one-hour runtime, The Big Knights: A Musical Adventure successfully lives up to its name, in a whirlwind of slapstick humour, lively production, a melodic soundtrack, and engaging performances, all with a healthy dose of ironic, absurdist dread.
The plot is situated within the fantastical Kingdom of Borovia, following the idiocy of brothers’ Sir Boris (Kate Wilkins) and Sir Morris (Jayce Carrano) as they struggle to live through lives of chivalry and honour while their housekeeper Ethel (Annabel Cameron) takes a well-earned holiday.
Inspired by the iconic first episode of the namesake television series Ethel and the Imp (1999), the audience is subject to hilarious narrative detours, then into a war drama, the nefarious schemes of the evil Imp (Theo Murray) and meta-dramatic breaks by the charismatic Narrator (Donna Rohani).
Throughout the musical, a paradoxical dialectic exists between a sense of childhood fantasy, fun and drama, and the real-word choices one has to face. While the musical numbers yield a delightful charm and the quips and quibbles of the cast kept the audience well entertained, I felt some of the slapstick humour fell short in quality in comparison to the rest of the production. Despite this, I had a smile on my face throughout the entire hour, and couldn’t help but enjoy the quirks of the absurd world the characters inhibited.
All the performances are extremely well done—from the buffoonery of the lovable Knights, to the distorted chirps of the evil Imp. The stand out performance, however, was Rohani’s Narrator character who kept the audience engaged in the zany production with an eccentric arrogance and sense of Socratic irony as they travelled through the narrative and fourth wall.
The ensemble cast was fantastic, with the singing, dancing and background performances heightening the absurdity of the drama and satisfying the charm of the fantasy Kingdom. One has to commend the skill of the Music producer, Nick Harriot and Vocal Director, Annabel Cameron in creating and directing a memorable and catchy soundtrack which was integral to the success of the production.
The choreography can’t be forgotten either, with the exciting dance performances heightening the romp of the musical, and items like step-dancing deftly integrating an invigorating rhythm to the musical numbers. Moreover, the sets were designed in a cartoonish, ironic matter that perfectly suited the idiosyncrasies of the play. Overall, the production was stellar, with the dynamic lighting matching the beats of the drama and reflecting comedic timing.
While watching the show, I was faced with a question: what does this all mean? If I were Michael Billington, what would I write? I considered a few things, namely, the destructive ignorance of the Knights, and the devastating side war story. Was this adaptation of a children’s cartoon secretly about war, famine, poverty?
But, as the show went on, I slowly let go of my prejudice and began to appreciate the narrative for what it really was about: the art of drama itself—of production, creation, being lost in one’s craft, and how all this helps us navigate the existential choices we face every day.
In sum, I consider this ‘musical adventure’ an exciting one, with successes in every aspect of its production. It was definitely worth seeing.