A dungeoneer talks to Olgarth in the Knightmare Live stage show.

Knightmare Live in 2016

By David Goldstein

"The sky was all purple. There were people running everywhere," sang Prince in 1999.

This came to mind last Sunday, when a group of us journeyed into London on the day of the marathon and headed for the purple Udderbelly theatre at the Southbank Centre. The occasion: the opening night of Knightmare Live: Level 3.

The interactive stage show has been running since 2013, up and down the UK. It's even sidestepped left into Wales. This year, we were told, The Game has Changed. What did this mean?

A quest takes place in Knightmare Live, 2016.

The biggest change is multiple dungeoneers. Like the French and Spanish versions of Knightmare (episodes can be found online), when one dungeoneer perishes then another steps in to pick up the quest. The show we saw had three dungeoneers, who had all pledged for the chance via Knightmare Live's latest crowdfunding campaign.

The risk with multiple dungeoneers is that you feel less invested in the adventure and its outcome. But as with Knightmare itself, it keeps you on your toes as a watcher, reminding you that victory is not guaranteed. And if three dungeoneers in one session sounds radical, that did happen on Knightmare (in the same Series 1 episode where Treguard coined "Ooh nasty!").

The cast has almost totally changed, as happened on some series of Knightmare. My favourite new character was the excitable feathercat. Yes, we've seen cat-men on stage in leotards before, but not with feathers. The goblins are back, as is Lord Fear, who enjoys intruding and baiting the dungeoneer far too much to maintain any semblance of an evil lair.

Goblins in Knightmare Live, 2016.

The special effects have been taken up a notch. In addition to a changing, light-reactive backdrop, we also get to see through the eyeshield. It works on dragons' backs as well as on the ground.

Knightmare on TV moved from being a sequence of encounters and obstacles to a show of plots and drama (paving the way for that throne-based fantasy series everyone goes on about). Knightmare Live has shifted in the opposite direction.

Rather than walking through an overarching story, the team faces compelling individual challenges, testing the advisors' skill in swiftly putting one word in front of the other, and the dungeoneer's ability to do likewise with feet - for everything from rearranging matches to evading sharp things. Within this there are subplots and side-quests, some of which are inspired by the TV series. They present the team with moral dilemmas, surprisingly tough decisions and a few gambles.

There are also riddles.

With so much change in the air, there is room for the very unexpected. At one point in the TV series, Treguard wished he were the opposition so that he could win for a change. Who'd have thought we'd see that played out on stage a quarter-century later? While these impromptu twists made the show seem less prepared than it was, they also indicated it can get even better as the run continues, with the cast learning to anticiptate more and more of the eventualites.

Lord Fear in Knightmare Live, 2016.

Of course, not everything has changed. The watchers' involvement is still welcomed, to aid the team and to provide clue objects. This time, we also got to suggest the quest: a Really Good Work/Life Balance, hard to attain even in a fantasy realm.

The spinning blades remain present in the dungeon, electrifying the room as always when they rotate into action, and taking no prisoners.

Last but not least, Treguard is still in place. Paul Flannery's performance is as strong as ever, thinking on his feet and ensuring that the dungeon is nothing if not entertaining for all concerned. If anything, his appreciation of Knightmare Live's TV heritage has deepened, which is pleasing to see.

These days Paul also works at the Crystal Maze experience as one of their mazemasters (best moonlighting ever), but Lord Dunshelm is clearly still his passion, and his performance keeps Treguard a prince among men. And women. And feathercats.

Treguard in Knightmare Live, 2016.

I was dreaming when I wrote this: forgive me it goes astray. Even better, live the dream yourself by getting tickets for Knightmare Live and partying like it's 1987-1994.

Knightmare Live is at the Udderbelly Festival until 17th July.

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