Theatre Thursdays: Dinner and a Show

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to go to Medieval Times with my family. For those who don’t know, Medieval Times is a dinner theatre franchise that gives its attendees an ‘authentic medieval experience’. They make you eat with your hands while watching knights swordfight and joust and ride ridiculously well-trained horses and whatnot. The show is styled like an old-timey tourney, and the seating arrangement decides which of the six knights you’ll be rooting for. Eventually the tournament is interrupted by a rogue knight or an evil warlock or some other unfortunate menace, and the champion of the tournament must take up arms and defeat them. They switch out the scripts for the shows every four years or so—over the course of my life I’ve seen (I think) three of the different plots. This evening’s plot featured a sinister herald from a northern king, who threatened the tourney’s king with war over a disagreement.

Although an evening at Medieval Times is always fun, I have a few beefs, both feminism-based and general, with the show.

First of all, women have very little place in the show. The Princess’s part is simpering, inane, and two-dimensional, and it grates on me. The knights’ squires can be boys or girls, but their parts are silent and entail mostly setting up obstacles and picking up horse crap. I’d have loved for this year’s new show to have included a female knight, but the heteronormativity built into the show (knights give tokens—flowers and sashes—to their chosen ladies in the audience, and it would just be gross if it was a girl giving it to another girl) really doesn’t allow for it.

Outside of that, I have a few other complaints. First, the King at our show was a terrible actor. Most of the actors either put on a British accent (despite the show being apparently set in 11th century Spain) or speak in generally posh-sounding Standard American English. This King sounded like Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride. The touch of Brooklyn accent made it hard to suspend disbelief that this guy was an 11th century lord.

The other thing that bugged me was the show’s plot. These shows often have trouble deciding whether they’re part of a fantasy kingdom or an actual historical place.  As I mentioned, the setting is apparently Spain—the knights all represent Leon or Navarre or Castile or whatever—but the mysterious Northern emissary looked like a mix of Shan Yu from Mulan and Ned Stark from Game of Thrones—a fur-wearing, menacingly broad-shouldered warrior from some far-off and frozen land. I’m probably just wildly over-thinking it, but I feel like in the 11th century people who lived so far north of Spain that they dressed like Winter is Coming weren’t just going to ride by themselves hundreds of miles to treat with a Spanish king. /overthinking

Medieval Times is a fun experience if you’re willing and able to shell out the dough for it. Just don’t go in expecting Masterpiece Theatre on horseback and you should have a good time.

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