The Cambridge Geek

Knightmare Live

I feel like this review might need context. So here is some. Enjoy as much or as little of this as you like.

Feel free to bask in the nostalgia.

Just in case you're not able to watch that (or you hate fun), a precis. Knightmare was a wildly popular children's TV show, on ITV from the late eighties to early nineties, in which a child had their sight taken away and were then led around a dungeon. Each "Dungeoneer" had to don the Helmet of Justice, and navigate solely by the helpful words of their teammates, who could see everything, but were held in a separate room.

The kids had to work their way through the dungeon, which was built using a rather neat blue screen virtual reality effect. This meant that the dungeoneer could constantly stumble around the same really boring, very empty room, without having to try and act to thin air (because of the helmet), while the teammates and viewing public could be impressed by them staggering around a range of different environments.

The dungeon had various challenges, such as word puzzles, the need to collect and use magic spells, careful coordination sequences and a few different characters who would turn up to either help, hinder, or attempt to murder. This all had to be done within a time limit, represented by a glowing face that slowly became disfigured, and was so ruddy difficult that only eight teams won in the eight year run of the show.

The most important characters were Treguard, the dungeon master who set the children their quest (and gave them hints when they were doing terribly) and Lord Fear, the closest it had to a persistent antagonist.

In case that summary doesn't make it obvious, it was a really nerdy show. And you know what nerds do, now we've grown up and got money (not as much as the previous generation, not house buying money, but at least enough to put on a show)? We make revivals of all the things we loved as kids. Hence, Knightmare Live.

This is a relatively simple recreation of the concept into a stage show, in which all of the rooms are represented by one room, with a few handy props and remarkably invisible people moving structural elements around. The room is able to contain the necessary word puzzles, required sneakery and mortal villains, in order to produce both tension and difficulty.

Into this is thrown an unfortunate member of the public, guided by a couple of comedians (admittedly, this makes for a better show than the often useless kids), and over the next hour, they attempt to solve the dungeon and escape with something amazing.

One of the very few occasions you can get an audience to cheer a bag.

Overseeing this debacle is once again Treguard and Lord Fear, looking surprisingly well given how much time as passed, as well as a terrifying dragon and a couple of goblins who act as both lickspittles and occasionally mortal enemies.

A true repeat of the idea wouldn't have quite the same mass appeal as the show once did, as often it was painfully awkward watching teams struggle through, so this is wonderfully tongue in cheek. While it's ostensibly set in the dungeon, "in-world", it's also playing as a version of the 90s that we only vaguely remember. Treguard is both the dungeon master and feuding with many other children's TV presenters. Don't get him started on Neil Buchanan.

In the same vein, Lord Fear, while a malevolent force attempting to murder the people venturing into the dungeon, is also an entertaining dick, taking petty delight in mocking Treguard. Also, a nice enough chap to not touch children. It's really not the 90s any more.

If I had to describe the show in a single word, that word would be hilarious. (And blogging would be a lot easier.) I'm honestly worried that I've bust a gut as I write this, being unexpectedly sore in parts of my body that were curled over with laughter during the show.

Treguard and Lord Fear are great fun, riffing back and forth both about the events in-world, as well as their rivalry as slightly dodgy actors. Lord Fear did manage to steal the show somewhat, helped along by his sudden inability to remember a few lines, and his decision to just wander off into an ad-libbed waffle that I suspect has been fine-tuned over no small number of performances.

They also know what sort of audience are likely to go to a Knightmare revival. The comedy headed nerdy often, and we all happily cheered or booed along. There were a few nice topical punts, such as Dragaaaaaaahn, the slightly brexity dragon, who had one of the best overly long gags I've encountered in a long while. Had me cracking up for a full minute.

There was a slight problem with that, in that one of the visiting comedians hadn't quite read the room, and tended to run into football jokes more than I think we appreciated, but certainly didn't ruin the atmosphere. Also probably a bit variable based on what sort of dungeoneer volunteer you get. One of ours was a bit sassy, which worked up to a point, but I can imagine others struggling. Still, the little kid having a go gave us a satisfying ending.

If you were a fan of the show as a kid, it should be impossible for you not to enjoy this.

Score 5

Tagged: Event Theatre Nerdy/Geeky Adaptation