Billy Hicks reviews Knightmare Live's Edinburgh Festival show of August 13th 2013.
"Ticket for Knightmare Live, please!" I say at the Gilded Balloon box office, four and a half hours before it starts but getting my ticket early to be on the safe side.
"I don't think that's possible" came the reply. She checks the computer. "I'm afraid it's sold out".
I felt like a combination of Giles at Christmas, Simon after sidestepping left and the feelings of every KM fan circa September 1995 and not seeing Series 9 on their screens. Having only the time to spend two full days in Edinburgh, Tuesday August 13th was my one and only chance to see the show up there, a day off for the cast and crew on Wednesday.
"It's been really popular, it's been selling out every day" was her further reply, followed by "...but there might be tickets released an hour before the show." All I could do was wait until then. Explore the city, see some other shows and return around half 4, not thinking that out of all the shows I was going to see up here, the one absolute definite might not be possible. I'd waited twenty years for this, surely I wasn't going to miss out?
I went back to the Gilded Balloon at 4:20, still an hour and ten minutes before it started, and asked again if there were any tickets available. She checks the computer.
And my £10.50 is instantly spent. Spellcasting J A M M Y S O D.
The Greatest Year
In what has been easily the greatest year to be a Knightmare fan since the show ended almost two decades ago, it still feels almost unreal what's happened - and what continues to happen - in the last twelve months.
This time last year, James Aukett's documentary, the CITV Old Skool Weekend, the Challenge repeats, YouTube's Geek Week and a five-star sellout success Edinburgh show were all still in the future. Why 2013 of all years has been the one to see a major revival in Knightmare's fortunes is a question that still somewhat baffles me today, but it simply seems to have finally reached the point where those of a certain age not only remember it well but are mature and experienced enough to do something about it - make documentaries, plan television channel schedules, devise shows etc.
Ten years ago, with the first wave of Challenge repeats and KMVR plannings it seemed like what's happening now was going to occur then. But the show was simply too young, and so were the fans. It hadn't been off our screens long enough and getting nostalgic about the late 80s and early 90s just seemed a bit too recent. Now we're in the midst of that era's revival, the timing was perfect.
Reprising an old memory
The Gilded Balloon holds many shows simultaneously. As I walked into the bar I noticed a major line of people forming on the side of the wall and wondered what major show or comedian they were waiting for. "This side for Knightmare Live, please!" say the stewards and I realise I'm meant to be in said queue.
The audience, on average about 30 and maybe just more male-heavy than female, are reminiscing and loading up YouTube clips of the original version of the show for those to view, or perhaps even the Geek Week episode. It's very possible that some of them haven't seen a single episode since it was off CITV, indeed almost every week at least someone seems to tweet during one of the Challenge repeats that they were simply innocently flicking through the channels and are now watching a show they'd long forgotten about.
The youngest in the crowd are some 6 or 7 year old children, who somewhat terrifyingly would have been born even after Knightmare VR was made.
"Welcome, watchers of illusion"
We enter the theatre, the impressive dungeon set standing proud amongst coloured lights and haze.
And from the moment both Paul Flannery (Treguard) and Tom Bell (Lord Fear) step out and deliver their initial monologues, the first thing you notice is their utter confidence and glee. Half a month in and they're already an undisputed success - sell out shows and the outside of the building showcasing their many 4 and 5 star reviews means that they have absolutely no need to be worried about anything and are clearly loving every second of every show, even on this Tuesday evening having performed almost every day (twice on the previous having added an extra show) and about to have a well-needed day off.
And who can blame them when everything they say or do gets a massive cheer?
- "Welcome, watchers of illusion!" Massive cheer.
- "I am Treguard!" Massive cheer.
- "Enter, stranger!!" Massive cheer.
They could wipe their nose on their sleeve and get a standing ovation, so thrilled are the audience to be there and watching these characters on stage for the first time.
"If you remember Knightmare, give me a large cheer now!" About three quarters of the audience loudly do so.
"And if you don't remember Knightmare, nervously whimper now!" The remaining quarter - mostly sitting at the back - follow the order, so Treguard gives them a brief explanation of what they're about to see. Presumably these are people who are here simply having read the reviews and heard the hype, helping towards making the show such a success.
Today's dungeoneer is a lady from Gloucestershire called Sarah assisted by comedian Paul Gannon and mind-reader Doug Segal as advisors. It's Segal who puts said skill to good use and gets the biggest and loudest cheer of the night, where on Sarah's first use of the words "Where am I?" he seizes the moment, looks at the audience and cheerily shouts "YOU'RE IN A ROOM!" and the crowd goes wild.
I didn't see the London preview shows so can't make any direct comparisons, but it's safe to say there were no IOU notes here and instead we had such unique clue objects such as can openers and xylophones. The giant head of Olgarth effortlessly got laughs by simply rolling his eyes around randomly (and being able to shout out the answer to riddles even as an audience member was a nice bit of interactivity) while Amee Smith provides some fine characterisations of female KM characters, including Mistress Goody.
For those hoping to see the show later in the run or indeed the London revival in September I will refrain from spoilers, but far from being a simple quest it's more akin to an end-of-season special, and the twist near the end has almost inspired me to write a whole fanfic based on it.
Did Sarah win? Sadly not, a fine dungeoneer but major panic from the advisors in the Room of Blades had her pushed to the side of the wall and sliced in half, which to Tom Bell/Lord Fear's obvious amusement afterwards appears to be one of the funniest deaths they'd had so far. Segal later apologised on Twitter for being "the worst Knightmare Live guides ever" which is a little harsh on their part as in Level 1 they weren't too bad, only when things got tricky in Level 2 did everything fall apart somewhat.
The show overran a bit thanks to some room puzzles taking a bit longer than usual to solve, causing Fear to pop his head out the back of the set and ad-lib "Warning Treguard, time force fading" near the end of the show which amuses me even now.
After the show Flannery invited people to pose for photographs of them with Treguard and the Helmet of Justice, and had me waiting in a queue for the opportunity as many seized the chance. All the cast proved to be very friendly and happily chatted to the audience after, as did the two comics and dungeoneer Sarah, who despite her death had clearly enjoyed the hour and assured me to let you all know that she thought her dungeoneering experience was "bloody brilliant".
The cast could all now rest the next 40-odd hours and return refreshed on Thursday, as I type I note both Saturday and Sunday's shows have already sold out and with reviews still coming in and hype still spreading, they can relax that the months of work they'd spent on the show has all paid off and leave the Fringe having given hundreds of people an incredible show, wonderful memories...and that rarest of Fringe gifts to themselves, a healthy profit.
Five stars? Most definitely. Roll on Bloomsbury, and here's my Treguard/Helmet photo moment!