I’ve been trying to remember why I didn’t go to either the 1983 original or the 2006 London revival of Blondel. Especially as its central character is King Richard I of England whose heir presumptive Prince John was my 32-times great grandfather or somesuch: it’s OK, you don’t have to curtsey, most old Lancastrian families are descended from the Plantagenet kings.

Not that it matters much because what is now staged has been so updated and refreshed with new songs that it bears little resemblance to the original which was a neon-lit pageant spoof on Thatcher’s Britain but now emerges as a sort of Spamalot with a crusade for the repeal of serfdom and equal opportunities for women, with some glancing jibes at the current political class.  In this regard it could have been even more keenly precise, substituting vicar’s daughter Theresa for grocer’s daughter Maggie, or dressing Corbyn in a cap and bells as court jester, but that might have been restrictive for future productions.

The tunes are folkier, too – half a dozen in the song list are asterisked to show they have been updated or written by Tim Rice with Matthew Pritchard and it now feels more like Once than a rock score.

The fable says that the minstrel Blondel found the captured King Richard I at a castle in Austria by playing a song they both knew on the lute under the prison window. It’s parodied as a relentless earworm ‘I’m a Monarchist’ which is as feeble as it is royally sycophantic, but fortunately there are better numbers in the show including ‘Aim For The Heart’ where Chris Whittaker’s choreography takes off too.

The first half creaks a touch as the plot is developed, and some pretty lame jokes fail to land– but even this is enlivened by a charmingly voiced King Richard from Neil Moors and a superbly over-the-top Prince John, initially channelling Alan Cumming but developing into an original tour-de-force for James Thackeray.   The second is more wall-to-wall musical numbers and much more enjoyable as a result.

Would I encourage you to rush to Blondel for a tip top musical theatre night out? There are more spectacular and musically more familiar shows across London, but it is a curiosity, and a piece rarely revived so if you’ve a passion for history, or updated monastic chant, or Blackadderish mediaeval comedy, give it a go.

 

Until July 15. Theatre has portable air conditioning.