First person: what it's like inside the helmet in Knightmare Live

This article is from 2013

Knightmare Live

Sophie-Louise Bachnick

Our reviewer dons the Helmet of Justice and takes part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show

Cult kids TV series Knightmare has been recreated as a live Fringe experience. Niki Boyle dons the Helmet of Justice and faces the dungeons of Lord Fear

It’s 1992, and I, a seven-year-old boy, am watching a group of slightly older, slightly more middle class, rather more English children guide one of their number round a virtual reality dungeon. The Dungeoneer – the title given to the maze-wanderer, who wears the oversized Helmet of Justice that effectively renders him blind – has lingered in one particular room too long. ‘Life-force fading!’ booms a disembodied voice, and a computer-animated head appears on screen, lumps of flesh peeling off it as the child’s vitality is depleted. ‘Sidestep left, Nathaniel!’ squeaks a plummy Kentish accent. ‘Now walk forward three paces. And another two. Just keep walking forward.’ The Dungeoneer moves onto the next level, and I sit entranced in front of my TV, spellbound by this mix of fantasy storytelling and not-quite-cutting edge computer graphics, wondering what horrors await the intrepid Nathaniel next.

Fast forward to 2013, and a goblin is advising me to remove my own (intensely sweaty) Helmet of Justice for a few precious minutes of fresh air. I’m backstage at Knightmare Live!, a Fringe production aimed at reliving the glory days of the cult, early 90s TV series; on the other side of the plywood set, a sell-out audience of my fellow near-30-year-olds watches as their childhood memories are recreated onstage. When instructed to do so, I pull my helmet down so it obscures my view and stumble back out into the limelight, uttering my immortal refrain:

‘Where am I?’

‘You’re in a room that looks remarkably similar to the last one,’ replies team member Matthew Highton, comedian and encyclopaedic Knightmare enthusiast. He’s joined by fellow comedian Jessica Foteskew; together, they are in charge of guiding me through a (somewhat reduced) maze in a quest for some sort of crown, encountering fellow travellers along the way and avoiding the minions of the evil Lord Fear.

It’s a heart-pounding experience for me – not just because I’m genuinely scared of being clobbered by an unseen goblin, but also because the audience bellows with excitement every time a monster appears onstage, drowning out my teammates’ instructions for avoiding it. I also fear letting the paying punters down – after all, this is an hour long show, and my death in the opening minutes would not only be an insult to their childhood memories, but also a major anticlimax and a waste of ten quid to boot.

Thankfully, the creators of Knightmare Live! – performers Paul Flannery, Tom Bell and Amee Smith – have taken eventualities such as my far-too-timid side-stepping into account and, without wishing to give too much away, they’ve managed to cram some genuinely compelling narrative twists into the show alongside the standard Dungeoneering and joke-cracking.

When my time as an explorer is over – when kindly dungeon-master Treguard (Flannery) has dismissed my teammates and I from the venue – I’m still buzzing with both adrenaline and the minor thrill of being a pseudo-celebrity, as some die-hard audience members inexplicably recognise my de-helmeted face. No matter what else I accomplish in my life, I know I can check this one item off my bucket list – my Knightmare experience was a dream come true.

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 622 6552, until 25 Aug (not 14), 5.30pm, £10.50–£11.50, (£9.50–£10.50).

Knightmare Live

  • 3 stars

Adventure, characters, puzzles and monsters feature in this critically acclaimed stage adaption of the cult TV classic in the guise of an interactive comedy game show.