Long-time fans will notice changes when they go the Exhibition Place "castle" for dinner and a joust.
With nine locations around the world, including one at Exhibition Place, Medieval Times is one of the more successful interpretations of the dinner-theatre experience. Each venue is loosely modelled after a Spanish castle, from the layout to the geography of the duchies and fifedoms that the individual knights hail from. Luckily, the company’s interpretation of history is far more about creativity than accuracy (which is a good thing, if only for hygiene’s sake).
Now, Medieval Times is attempting to inject some freshness into its performances: the company recently announced that it would be unveiling an entirely new show. On November 8, members of the media were invited to the Toronto “castle” to see it.
Lindsay Collette, group sales coordinator for Medieval Times, notes that the old show had been in place since February 2009, and that a new show is generally introduced every three to four years. “Once the main concepts have been approved for the storyline, knight-fight choreography, dressage elements, and cast scripts are layered in,” she says. “Once the working script is complete, our creative director, Leigh Cordner, begins developing the score with Daniel May, our award-winning composer. The score is recorded, this last one done in the Ukraine, and blocking the new show begins at one of the castles where lighting and various cues are adapted to produce the final working show.” The new show has been playing for paying audiences for about a month already.
Unlike other dinner-theatre experiences, the show at Medieval Times is not a typical stage performance, but a full-scale tournament. Many of the events are straightforward shows of skills like medieval falconry and horsemanship, but the main part of the show involves six knights who all compete against one another to win the King’s favour. After pitting their skills against one another in games of accuracy and displays of skill, they move to more direct confrontation, battling first with lances on horseback, and then with hand-to-hand combat on foot. This is staged combat, where the results are predetermined (similar to professional wrestling). But with sweat and sparks flying, it’s still exciting for audience members, who cheer for their own knight to win.
In the new show, the major beats are the same. The displays of skills and battlefield manoeuvres are still there, as is the structure of the tournament and combat. The beloved meal (including a half chicken that audience members eat using their hands for utensils) is also entirely the same.
What sets the new show apart, in fact, is what’s missing: most of the old narrative. Whereas the knights were once clearly defined characters (the pious and stoic Black-and-White Knight, the crass and arrogant Green Knight), they are now treated as mostly uniform, and almost perfectly interchangeable. The tournament is less about individual relationships, conflicts, or jostling for position, now. Instead, it’s a series of displays of skill. (There was one brief mention about an “issue of honour” two knights wanted to work out, but no specifics were even given.) The primary storyline—a threat to the Princess’ honour and the integrity of the kingdom—comes very late in the show, and seems more an excuse for one more battle than a way of conveying any real tension.
The execution, however, is more dazzling than before. Many of the costumes have been redesigned, which introduces more pageantry and colour. All the stunts are executed with startling skill, and the show as a whole moves along at a brisk pace, with no lulls in the action. What it lacks in substance it attempts to make up for in style.
While sticklers for historical accuracy will have lots to quibble about, and those hoping for a strong story with their dinner will be disappointed, there is no doubt that the newest incarnation of Medieval Times is wildly entertaining. And even though the beloved Green Knight is no longer clearly identified as the heel, there is no doubt that a lot of long-time fans of the show will still request to sit in what is infamously the rowdiest section. After all, a villain is a villain, even if the story is temporarily making him well behaved. And cheering for the bad guy is always the most fun.