Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 20, 2011

Clash of the ages at Medieval Times

Steel clashes against steel, sending sparks into the air. Lances splinter against shields and the crowd roars, cheering or booing their champions during a night’s entertainment at Medieval Times. The medieval themed dinner and a show offered by Medieval Times (with a convenient location in Schaumburg, Ill.) provides an exciting, engaging and surprisingly tasty dinner experience.

While at first the concept seems unbelievably cheesy and unappealing, the spectacle of the evening and the massive portions of roasted chicken win out fairly quickly. The building itself is basically an overgrown play-castle, with decorative turrets, flags and banners from all eras of history and tapestries (some with surprisingly graphic cartoon violence depicted). Each person receives a crown on arrival, the color denoting the section of the arena that they sit in and the feudal champion that they cheer for.

The experience begins as you enter the great hall (there is no other name for it), where banquet-goers mill around in the half hour to 45 minutes leading up to the banquet and tournament and spend way too much money on wooden swords, light-up swords, pewter dragon eggs and the historical dungeon exhibit.

At last the “rules” of the evening are announced on a loud speaker, and everyone enters the arena. Each banquet-goer is seated according to the color of their champion in one of six sections around the coliseum-esque arena. In a few moments, the lights go down and the show finally begins.

While there is some semblance of a plot, following the capture of a prince and various diplomatic wheelings and dealings between vague feudal powers, the real point of the show is the spectacle. In the first scene the arena is completely dark except for a single search light in the middle of the sand. Dramatic music plays, smoke billows and a lone knight fights off enemies, then is captured and finally dragged away in chains followed by a torturer with a whip.

Following the mysterious beginning, there are various speeches by the king and other dignitaries and the audience “learns” about the long history of war between two kingdoms, how the prince has gone missing and how the new peace will be settled with a tournament. From that point on the plot is largely set aside to make room for the much more interesting business of horsemanship, equine acrobatics, jousting and hand-to-hand combat.

The battles and tournament build to a crescendo as the evening progresses, each fight becoming slightly more violent, fast-paced and engaging. Sparks fly from the various swords, axes and pole-arms, knights are struck from their horses, champions are betrayed, and the audience becomes progressively more passionate about their champions winning.

The tension during the duels is palpable as cheers and boos echo over the operatic music and clash of weapons.

While all of this fighting, horse-riding and pageantry is going on, there is also the feast to attend to. Somehow, despite the pitch darkness, quite capable servers (called serfs and wenches) make a five course meal appear in front of you—soup, bread, roasted chicken, ribs, pastry and coffee—all while muttering about “dragon nuggets.”

In the end on this particular night, the Green Knight proved traitorous, the Blue Knight fought hard and heroically before losing a hard battle and the Prince helped win the day. All the contestants reemerged on horseback for applause after the final battle.

While Medieval Times may seem expensive ($60 normally) there are usually several different deals available (like buy one get one free). Thirty dollars is not bad for a three-and-a-half hour show and dinner. The food is tasty, the jousting dramatic and the atmosphere fun.

Ben Reeves

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