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Blondel – Union Theatre Until 15th July
Review By Caroline Hanks-Farmer
Thirty-three years ago I went on a school trip to London to see Blondel. It was my very first experience of going to London to see a show. It left a lasting impression and I firmly believe it may have been culpable for my Theatre Passion. So this review was always going to be personal.
When King Richard announces that he’s off on a Middle East Crusade to give Saladin a piece of his mind (and sword), the struggling court musician Blondel is forced to stay behind to write songs in praise of the King’s evil – and ambitious – brother, Prince John. Worse still, Blondel is separated from his sweetheart Fiona, who has been press-ganged into the King’s official crusade dry cleaning dept. However when Richard is captured by the murky – and rather cunning – Duke of Austria (just before the interval), Blondel decides to embark upon a pan-European adventure to save his King, Fiona, and England. An irritable assassin, a proto-Robin-Hood and a quartet of monks all aid and/or hinder Blondel’s efforts to write himself both a place in history and love song to dedicate to Fiona.
A simple and endearing production awaits you if you choose to step back in time to the Middle Ages and join Blondel on his crusade to win his maiden and find the King. As soon as the opening number harmonies strikes up you release that you are going to be in for a treat. The vocal talents of the cast are never in doubt. The four monks David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall, and Calum Melville provide us with merriment and wit whilst they narrate the proceedings.
What particularly charmed me with this production is the fact that what you see is what you get – raw talent, with no chance to hide behind gimmicks or special effects. Connor Arnold takes the lead as Blondel with charismatic charm that had the audience melting in minutes. His fair maiden or should that be opinionated fiancé Fiona played by Jessie May, with her beautifully clear voice, kept Arnold on his toes throughout, perfect casting! Other characters I particularly enjoyed were King Richard (Neil Moors), Blondel’s Mum (Katie Meller), Martha (Courtney Bowman), hilariously camp Prince John (James Thackeray), Man In Green (Craig Nash) and not so deadly assassin Michael Burgen.
With perfect direction by Sasha Regan, this silly and simple trip back in time, gave the joyous feeling I had all those years ago. Stripped away productions, where comedy and simplistic tunes are perfectly matched with an ensemble talent such as these, are refreshingly welcome in the complicated times we live in.
This show requires no thought, it’ll make you laugh, smile and indulge in a evening of silliness and mirth, supported by charisma and vocal talents. It’s a welcome revival that’s been overdue and I’m thrilled that I got to review it all these years later. Go see it’s a lot of fun.
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book and lyrics by Tim Rice
music by Stephen Oliver
additional book by Tom Williams
additional music Mathew Pritchard
Directed by: Sasha Regan
Old Union Arches,
229 Union Street,
London SE1 0LR
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Wednesday 21 June – Saturday 15 July
Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday & Sunday matinees