Nightmares At The Theatre

Stage for Knightmare Live. Surrounded in darkness, the large back screen is filled with a large image of the dungeoneer's helmet, which goes down far enough in the front to cover the eyes, and has 2 horns curving inwards on each side. On a table on the stage is an actual dungeoneer's helmet plus a knapsack for carrying items.

Over the past couple of months I’ve seen a couple of theatre shows which are in complete contrast to each other – one a dramatic play (A Monster Calls), the other an interactive comedy (Knightmare Live). Yet both feature monsters and scary situations in their own way. So as I’ve only had the chance to write about them now, I thought I’d put them together in one post, because they’re so different.

So I hope you like reading about them. They’ve both finished their runs at their respective venues, but they may well appear elsewhere. So I recommend keeping an eye out for them, as I did enjoy them both.

A Monster Calls

I went to see this play at The Old Vic with my friend Claire earlier this month. And we attended the performance that had a touch tour and audio description, which The Old Vic provide in house (set up with the help of VocalEyes as part of the See A Voice project).

As per usual, the touch tour was a great experience. At the beginning we were introduced to the cast, who kindly came out to say hello before they had to go and get ready. Then we had a tour of the stage, getting a good feel for its size and layout, and handling many of the costumes and props used in the show. Having a tour like that really does help visually impaired people like myself to engage fully with the show afterwards, so I always value it highly. Likewise, the audio description was very useful as well.

The outside of the Old Vic theatre building, with the words The Old Vic in big white letters across the wall between the rows of windows. Above the theatre entrance are red letters that say A Monster Calls.

The play itself is based on a book by Patrick Ness (based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd), which Claire has read but I haven’t. There’s a film as well, but I’ve not seen that either.

The story is all about Conor, a young teenager whose mother is seriously ill, and he’s struggling to cope with the reality of the situation, living in fear and denial. But then a monster starts visiting him over various nights, and proceeds to tell Conor 3 stories, with the order that Conor will tell his own story as a result, and it must be the truth.

The empty stage for A Monster Calls. The floor and back wall of the stage are white, and at the top right of the back wall is a large square panel inset from the rest of the wall. Lengths of rope extend down from the ceiling and curve across to each side of the stage where they're held in place.

Beyond that, I don’t want to give too much of the story away. However, it’s very powerful and emotional, and it’s wonderful to watch. You really do feel for Conor and those around him, and we can all relate to what he’s going through in some way. The various story elements – including those in the monster’s own tales – come together really nicely at the end, in a very thought-provoking and moving way that sticks in your mind long afterwards. It moved some audiences members to tears, sometimes long before the end, and caused some to give a standing ovation at its conclusion. And it’s not hard to see why.

A subject like this could have been presented in a very dull and depressing way. But it’s not here. It is full of emotion, it feels very real, and it does get dark and sad sometimes, of course. But there’s so much more involved. There are light moments of humour throughout, for instance. And the mixture of the monster’s stories with that of Conor’s life means there’s a nice variety and a good pace to events during the play.

The ornately decorated balconies in the Old Vic auditorium, viewed from below in the stalls.

There is also lovely accompanying music, rather impressively performed by just 2 people across an array of instruments. Ropes hanging from the ceiling are very cleverly used to form the tree from which the monster emerges. And the use of projected imagery on the back wall complements everything nicely. The choreography of the scene changes and introduction of props is also very smoothly carried out by the cast, who sit in full view of the audience at the side of the stage when not performing, but are not at all distracting, and do sometimes have roles to play even from the sidelines.

So all in all, it was a very emotional, engaging and enjoyable play. I wasn’t sure if that type of drama would appeal to me or not, but I loved it. I’m assured by Claire that it is pretty faithful to the original book as well, and I will certainly try and check out the audiobook myself soon. It’s less than 4 hours, so it won’t take long to go through. But even in that short time it’s clear the story can still make quite an emotional impact. So if you ever see this play advertised again – and I’d be very surprised if this is the last time we see this on stage anywhere – I highly recommend going to see it.

The ceiling of the Old Vic auditorium. The lights in the centre consist of many small bulbs arranged in 2 circles. Around this is a much larger circle on the ceiling itself. divided into 8 equal segments, each containing an ornate leafy design.

Knightmare Live

This could not be more different to the above. If the mere title of this second show has brought a smile to your face, then you obviously remember one of the greatest kids TV shows of the 80s and 90s. And, for some time now it seems, there’s been a live version of it. I wasn’t aware of it until a friend mentioned it earlier this year though, but once they did I had to check it out.

I finally got to see it in July at the Underbelly Festival on the South bank, and it was delightfully hilarious nostalgic entertainment from start to finish. If you loved the TV show, you’ll love this, believe me. It is so much fun and doesn’t take itself at all seriously.

Entrance to the Underbelly Festival on London's South Bank. On the blue sign above the entrance, white and yellow text reads Underbelly Festival Southbank, fantastic live shows, award winning bars and street food, free to enter - come on in, 6 April to 30 September.

If you don’t remember Knightmare, it was basically a gameshow where a team of 4 children would take on a dungeon quest, under the watchful eye of Dungeon Master Treguard, played to perfection by Hugo Myatt.

One member of the team would be chosen as the dungeoneer, and would wear a helmet that completely covered their eyes, so they couldn’t see anything, except for what was directly underneath them (so they could see items on tables if they got close for example).

They would then enter the dungeon, and would be guided through it by their teammates who were watching them on a monitor. Together the team would have to collect clue objects, solve puzzles, interact with other characters, defeat enemies or run away from them, navigate past deadly obstacles, cast magic spells, gather food items to maintain the dungeoneer’s life force, and so on.

Significantly, however, the dungeon was virtual, not physical. The dungeoneer was really just walking around a blue screen studio, and the graphics – a mixture of CGI and hand-drawn artisty – were overlaid on top, which their teammates and viewers at home could see. The only real things were the people the dungeoneer met and the objects they had to pick up. Today the graphics would seem crude, but that was all part of the charm, and it seemed cutting edge back in the day. As far as I know, there was nothing on TV like it at the time.

Stage for Knightmare Live. Surrounded in darkness, the large back screen is filled with a large image of the dungeoneer's helmet, which goes down far enough in the front to cover the eyes, and has 2 horns curving inwards on each side. On a table on the stage is an actual dungeoneer's helmet plus a knapsack for carrying items.

So Knightmare Live is a real-life version of that. Of course, there was no blue or green screen here. The stage represented each room, with objects and cast members appearing as appropriate. And the blind dungeoneer was simply guided across the stage by their teammates sitting to the side. There were some graphics shown on the back screen sometimes, but otherwise everything was done physically, and often in very amusing ways.

The dungeoneers in the show are chosen from the audience. People can apply to take on the role when they buy their tickets, and hope their name is then drawn out. But it also became apparent that one or two people who had never seen the TV show were set up by their friends to do it. Which made it all the more amusing for those of us in the know, seeing their bewilderment at what they’d got themselves into! But regardless of whether people remembered the show or not, everybody got into the spirit of it and had a great time.

Close-up of the dungeoneer's helment and knapsack on the table on stage for Knightmare Live

Knightmare Live has its tongue very firmly in its cheek and, while the game is faithfully copied, it’s full of humour and references, and is just a good laugh. And the cast were great too. The guy playing Dungeon Master Treguard was a great host who kept the show moving along nicely. And the guy who played the dragon was clearly having a lot of fun in his role, even getting the audience involved in a call-and-response chant that went on for ages and had us all giggling like we were children again! It was a proper nostalgia fest.

So the whole show was great, I loved it. A friend of mine has seen the show at least twice, they’re a big fan of it too. I’d definitely go again, as with different audience members being dungeoneers and their guiding team members each time, each show is unique. So if you’re a Knightmare fan, do go if you get the chance.

But alas, a complete temporal disruption is approaching. Time is now the enemy, and I must finish this post here. Time flies, as the Romans would say. And, although all continues in your world, here time has flown. All blogging must now cease, until I post with you once more. Join me again for Well Eye Never. And just keep telling yourself, it’s only a blog. Or is it? 🙂

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

7 thoughts on “Nightmares At The Theatre”

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