First person: what it's like inside the helmet in Knightmare Live
Our reviewer dons the Helmet of Justice and takes part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show
This article is from 2013.
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).