You’re in a room.
You’re a young teenager in the mid to late 80’s with a sense of adventure and a TV company asks for volunteers to star in a new show where you and 3 mates can wander round a dungeon trying to solve its puzzles. You squeal at your mates, write into the show and get rejected because your sense of fashion extended beyond a set of tartan shorts, pastel coloured polo t-shirt and more spots on your face than residents of a quarantine ward after a particularly virulent outbreak of smallpox.
But enough about my formative years.
For those bespectacled nerds that did manage to wangle a go on one of the world’s first VR suites, complete with primitive 3D rendered Level 5 Wall Monsters, ropey actors contending with contestants who couldn’t solve a puzzle if it had the solution emblazoned in neon lettering on the far wall and a presenter who had such disdain for his contestants, he openly mocked them as they flailed around failing to solve the aforementioned puzzle. So, for anyone alive and under the age of 18 in the 80s and 90s, Knightmare proved to be essential viewing and probably started me on my path of screaming at TV contestants who showed less initiative than a tranquilised hippy after drinking 6 bottles of Buckfast.
Whilst leaving a number of catchphrases seared in our brains, the demise of Knightmare left a gaping wound in our lives which we’ve never been able to fully heal from…until now. It seems the group longing we have is shared and some bright spark (Paul Flannery) decided that the Castle of Confusion could work just as well on the live stage, doing away with all the high-tech fancy graphics we used to... er… love in favour of black curtains, yellow screens with coloured lighting and a bag full of souvenir badges informing us of our mediocrity about not being the Chosen One.
So as one of many Watchers of Illusion, I and my better half rocked up to the MAC in Edgbaston near Birmingham on Hallowe’en weekend and somehow managed to bag a front row seat. Confronted by a chest upon which sat a knapsack (only for food!) and the iconic helmet which magically resizes according to its wearer. Excitement was somewhat elevated on seeing this visage then accompanied by a voice from above instructing us to give random items we happen to have in our pockets/bags/socks to act as quest items. “Give them to the goblins” we were told, at which point two masked figures came through the portal to collect whatever junk we could fish out. Our particular session included a toy light sabre and what was later described by the shopkeeper as a “cock warmer”. Not exactly what every adventurer needs to negotiate a dungeon, unless said dungeon happens to be a brothel on Hoth.
Paul plays Treguard and he confidently strode onto stage to rousing applause – the character we all loved as youngsters. The applause was extended, much to his surprise and delight, so it was obvious this room was full of nerds – something our host cottoned onto rather quickly. Following a bit of banter with the audience, an adventurer was chosen from the mob, helmet donned and off we went.
Said adventurer was then promptly murdered by a Death Knight in the first room prompting the appearance of Lord Fear (Richard Soames) and a very entertaining gloating session about how crap the team is. The tone was set with some excellent play-offs between Treguard and Lord Fear who responded to the audience heckling with suitable aplomb creating a fantastic atmosphere of fun and interactivity. Lord Fear came across as a “bit of a geezer” which I thoroughly enjoyed with Treguard being akin to the angry dad trying to control his unruly children during a day out at the zoo.
A new adventurer was chosen, informed very confidently by Lord Fear that the next room was impenetrable (aren’t they all?) and off we went again. The requisite storekeep (Katy Schutte) rocked up with the previously collected quest items who then made fun of the mechanics of the game and the adventurer. I won’t spoil her methods here, suffice to say it was highly amusing. I also feel we owe the Viking (James Rowland) an apology. It seems that the meek guides on the mics had a hidden evil streak by choosing to callously murder “the nicest man in the entire dungeon” without even getting to know him. But then, there are always casualties in war. And stage productions it would seem.
One of the things that this live version has in common with the TV show is the unpredictability of the adventurer’s responses whilst in the dungeon. The cast coped with it extraordinarily well, especially where the team did something unexpected – by surviving one of the “supposed to die” rooms, throwing the backstage crew into complete disarray. Treguard and Lord Fear, with the kind of brutal honesty known only to Edmund Blackadder when insulting...well anyone, broke the 4th and probably 5th wall informing the crowd of this mishap. It was of course well received and still within the tone of the show. All done in stride and hats (or indeed helmets) off for the team dealing with it so well.
I think a special mention needs to go to the projectionist at our venue for possibly the worst sense of timing since John F. Kennedy decided that was the day to ride with the roof down. Not only did he manage to screw up the life-force vid when our hero was, for once, perfectly healthy, but showed us the journey to level 2 a full room before we’d even found the way down. But you know what? It didn’t matter one bit. We loved it and again, despite it appearing on a level of Ramshackle known only to the Collider Cast, our hosts negotiated this technical hurdle with ease and kept us engaged in the whole affair.
So, truth accepted, it’s safe to say I enjoyed Knightmare Live. It has a fabulous “rough around the edges” feel straight from the 80’s and a delightful sense of retro camp that dragged its audience of aging nerds into the right mindset straight from the off. I’m eager to see it again and find out what awaits the next Stranger to enter the makeshift dungeon.
But for now, I sense a temporal disruption approaching so I’d better stop before I’m frozen for a week with nothing but a bearded man and 3 kids for company.