Director's notes on Blondel, by Patrick Wilde
It is a fantastic coup for The Pleasance Islington to present what is, in effect, brand new work by arguably the world’s most famous and successful lyricist, Tim Rice. It’s even more exciting that I have been given the opportunity to work with Tim and an extremely talented team to craft this production especially for the Pleasance space. I’ve always thought it a magical show, and doing it at Christmas simply adds to that feeling. That it deals with a dodgy war in the middle east, the modern obsession for fame at all cost, the abuse of political power and has at it’s heart an extremely modern love affair means it’s that rarest of beasts, a musical that might make you think as well as laugh and cry.
Blondel was one of the first musicals Tim Rice wrote outside the extraordinarily successful partnership with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Teaming up with the brilliant young composer Stephen Oliver, who had written the music for the RSC’s breathtaking adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, they took on the legend of the twelfth century troubadour Blondel.
Legend has it that when Richard the Lionheart was captured on his way back from the Crusades by Leopold, Duke of Austria, his brother Prince John refused to pay the ransom. It was only the loyal and dogged pursuit of the king by the court musician, Blondel that saved the country from certain ruin:
“Prince John felt that nothing now stood between him and the throne of England. He told the people that the King was dead and would never come back again. He seized the royal castles and what gold and jewels he could find belonging to the King in England. But the English would neither believe nor follow John.
Meanwhile Blondel, a minstrel or singer who loved King Richard, took his harp, and, wandering from castle to castle, sought his master through all Germany. For the Emperor kept secret where he had imprisoned Richard. Wherever Blondel heard of some unknown prisoner, there he stopped and sang a song which Richard and he had made and sung together.
Again and again Blondel sang this song, but no answering voice ever came from any of the grim castle walls. At last one evening, weary and almost hopeless, he began to sing beneath the walls of a castle called Trifels.
"O Richard! O my king!
Thou art by all forgot,
Through the wide world I sadly sing,
Lamenting thy drear lot.
Alone, I pass through many lands
Alone, I sigh to break thy bands.
O Richard! O my king!
Thou art by all forgot,
Though the wide world I sadly sing,
Lamenting thy dread lot."
Blondel's voice was sad and broken, his heart was heavy, and he could scarcely sing for tears. But hardly had he finished the first verse when, from a window high above him, another voice took up the tune and sang:—
"The minstrel's song
Is Love alone,
Fidelity and Constancy,
Though recompense be none."
The voice rang out clear and full and strong. Blondel knew and loved it. It was the voice of Richard Cœur de Lion. Blondel leaned his head against the rough stone of the castle wall and wept for joy. He had found his King.” (From Our Island Story by H E Marshall)
From this slight story Tim Rice and Stephen Oliver constructed a witty and musically complex sung-through show which played in the West End of London in 1983. Adding a love story, an extraordinary chorus provided by four monks and a crazed hitman, it was one of the most original shows of the eighties and had a cult following. Unbelievably it hasn’t been revived professionally in London since.
I saw the show several times in its original incarnation and directed it myself in 1987 for the LOST Youth Company in Fulham. Tim and Stephen surprised us by turning up to see that production and said they enjoyed it so much they were considering revamping the show.
Sadly Stephen died not long after, tragically young, and the new version never happened.
Until now. I have been delighted to collaborate with Tim on what has been a labour of love for both of us. He has rewritten a lot of his original lyrics, and Stephen’s extraordinary music has been re-orchestrated by Mathew Pritchard working with Tim to produce a tighter, shorter, punchier show especially for the Pleasance space. A cast of supremely talented singers, actors and musicians has been carefully selected to bring this unashamedly romantic and funny story to a twenty first century audience for the first time.
Because of the enormous interest we are already getting (thousands of hits on the website already from around the world) early booking is seriously advised. Come and find out why our foremost lyricist has revisited this show after all these years and why it is a real alternative to panto this Christmas.