In anticipation of their performance season in early-to-mid October, the director and cast from OXAGEN Production's Spamalot discuss their roles and experiences in this musical comedy hit.
Think of the quest for the Holy Grail and what comes to mind? Images of knights on horseback, adventerous treks through distant lands, holy quests, valour, awesome duels, and an artefact so coveted that its significance and existence are still being discussed today. For many the legendary relic may also bring up images of killer rabbits, holy hand grenades, constitutional peasants, warriors who view a loss of limbs as a “mere flesh wound”, and a group of shrubbery-loving knights who exclaim “Ni!” to torture their enemies. All of these absurd elements, and more, were depicted in the classic 1975 comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a parody on King Arthur's epic quest for the holy artifact, which is still ranked by many websites and magazines as one of the greatest ever comedies.
In 2005 the classic film was adapted to Broadway by former Python, Eric Idle, who named the musical after a line from the movie: “we eat ham, and jam and spam a lot”. The show became an instant critical and financial success, going on to receive several nominations and awards, as well as becoming one of the longest running Broadway productions in history.
According to Grace Taylor, who is currently the director for OXAGEN Production's own version of this award winning musical, Spamalot became such a hit because it was “so rude and so close to the pulse of society that it just resonates with everyone!”.
“It makes fun of itself. That’s very important,” explains Grace. “Not everyone LOVES musical theatre, and Spamalot acknowledges that by making it as overtly musical as possible”.
Founded in 2009, OXAGEN Production first raised their curtains in 2010 with their Inaugural Gala Performance and presented their first production in 2011 of Guys and Dolls. The company was created with the goal of providing an avenue for Xavier College and Gennazzano FJC College alumni, as well as the wider community above school age, to further develop their talents and interests in the performing arts. With a cast of performers mostly around their early to mid twenties, OXAGEN is set to bring their production of Spamalot to the stage from October 5th-13th..
With previous experience as a performer, choreographer and assistant director, Spamalot marks Grace's debut as a director. Having watched Monty Python since she was three years old (and proudly stating that she knows all the words to their “Aussie Philosopher’s Song”) , she says that there are a lot of principles that the comedy troupe have passed on that have influenced her life (“whether that’s good or not I’ll leave up to you”, she jokes) and that this experience of Monty Python as a child has inspired her direction of Spamalot.
“I remember how funny it was then and how much I laughed,” she says. “I really want there to be a sense of innocence and fun with this show”.
In the role of King Arthur is 18-year old mobile DJ, Josh Parish, who first entered the world of musical theatre when he was 10 years-old, with Spamalot being his first production outside of school. Josh says that when he first heard that OXAGEN Productions were presenting Spamalot he decided to watch a version of the musical on the internet, instantly falling in love with Arthurs' seriousness as he faces colourfully absurd scenarios in a world populated with ridiculous characters. .
“I couldn’t stop laughing, it’s a hilarious show,” he says. “I rang Lochie the stage manager immediately to book in audition; it just looked like too much fun. And I was right”.
With previous stage credits including the diversely different roles, Sweeney Todd and Daddy Warbucks. Josh says that the latter role bears some resemblance to Arthur in that they're both “powerful men in their worlds and they are both quite arrogant and self centered at times”, though portraying such commanding and older characters on stage presents him with a great challenge.
“Being only eighteen this is obviously vastly different from how I would usually walk and hold myself,” he explains. “And of course not to keep a straight face at all times can be terrible difficult”
While admitting that he isn't as big a Python fan as others, Josh says that one of Spamalot's greatest strengths is that it's “lovingly ripped” from the 1975 film – a movie which he has “seen and loved”.
“It makes the show that much funnier in my opinion because audience members laugh before characters even open there mouths, as they are recalling a scene they already know and love”.
Accompanying King Arthur and his loyal knights on their quest for the Holy Grail is Spamalot's sole female character, The Lady of the Lake – a new addition to the cast of characters from the 1975 movie. Described on Spamalot's website as “part fairy, part diva, all woman”, in OXAGEN's Spamalot the character is portrayed by 25-year old performer Camilla “Millie” Hodgson, who says that her first production with OXAGEN has been a “refreshing experience”.
“They are so welcoming and everyone is really supportive of one another. Everyone is there to work hard and have fun”, she says.
Making the transition from her real life position as a humble nursing student to an aquatic diva in Spamalot, Millie has tried to keep the character her own while occassionally taking inspiration from other performers such as Sara Ramirez, who starred in the Broadway version (“There are a few other influences from Liza to Bette, it really depends on the song” she adds). Millie describes The Lady of the Lake as an attention seeking and self-assured individual who “thrives in powerful positions and enjoys being the woman who is in control”.
“She is so full of herself and embraces any opportunity to be the centre of attention. There is no down time, even her ballad is exhausting”, Millie explains.
She says that one of the most difficult aspects of portraying the character is trying not succumb to the musical's clever humour and maintaining a straight face.
“I can't say I have nailed it yet”, she jokes. “I love how witty the lines are and how literal skits can be. You’ll hear my cackle from the wings”.
Director Grace Taylor says that beyond the absurdity and humor are also several important themes that were absent from the 1975 film, including the acceptance of people from all walks of life; love (“it wouldn't be musical theatre without it”, jokes Grace); and optimism
“No matter what happens in one’s quest through life, it’s important to see the “bright side” so that you can continue”, she says.
Describing rehearsal periods as “atrociously fun”, Grace says that she's attempted to set OXAGEN's Spamalot apart from other musicals by emphasizing “emotional truth” in the actors' performances and avoiding “over-the-top” performances so that the characters seem real and believable to audiences.
“When I've seen Spamalot and productions of this ilk before, the actors play either the original characters (as in the Pythons) or they play a caricature of the character,” explains Grace. “I didn’t want my actors to play John Cleese, Terry Gillam, Eric Idle or any of the other Pythons -I want them to play their characters truthfully”.
With this goal in mind, Grace says that members of the audience can expect a night of “fun” and “silliness” from OXAGEN's Spamalot.
“An audience really can expect to be entertained for the full time”. she says. “We have really thought about the set and the props and all the other elements of stagecraft and have decided to try something a little different (but I can’t give anything away)”.
OXAGEN Productions will present Spamalot for a six-show season from the 5th-13th of October at Genazzano FCJ College’s Madeleine Centre in Kew.
Friday 5 October 8pm
Saturday 6 October 8pm
Sunday 7 October 3pm (Matinée)
Thursday 11 October 8pm
Friday 12 October 8pm
Saturday 13 October 8pm
Director – Grace Taylor
Assistant Director – Amy Jenkins
Music Director – Kent Ross
Choreographer – Catherine Worsnop
Production Manager & Stage Manager – Lachlan O'Connor
Assistant Stage Manager – Rebecca Cullinan
Producer – Ary Sudarmana & OXAGEN Committee
Costume Design – Aiden D'Cunha & Renee Giuliano
Sound Design – Nick Liley
Set Design – Ben Noble & Rob Smith