Spamalot was the 2005 Tony Award winner for Best Musical and was written by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame and John Du Prez his long time musical associate. All information about this musical quite categorically notes that it is a musical comedy lovingly ripped off from the 1975 motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. It tells the story of King Arthur who travels around England, recruiting knights for his Round Table in Camelot. When they eventually all descend upon Camelot, God charges them to find the Holy Grail. Through a journey to a multitude of lands, encountering a myriad of odd characters, Kind Arthur and his knights bring music and laughter in a truly Pythonesque manner.
MLOC set a huge challenge in producing this well-loved show. Director Jane Court, a long-time Python fan, has been waiting to direct this show. She demonstrated an excellent understanding of the humour and intellectual intent of this musical. Court also took a risk in casting some first time performers in leading roles and had some really original twists in staging the show. The senior ladies dancers were an inspired piece of comedy and were one of the funniest elements of the show. Ian Nisbet as musical director recruited a wonderfully tight orchestra who were also in on the comedy, particularly at the start of the show as they all donned handkerchief tied at the corners on their heads. Choreographer Keir Jasper had a large set and thirty-five cast members to contend with on a small stage, obviously many who were not trained dancers, which meant that at times there were constraints in staging big numbers.
The Phoenix Theatre is not a huge theatre, however there were some large, well-constructed set pieces, in particular the hand and feet of God, complete with smoke effects, which were appreciated by the audience. The two tower trucks at the opening of the show were also very effective. The huge range of costumes required for the show were colourful and appropriate; coordinators Margot Sephton and Lynne Hobbs should be congratulated on their work. Stager manager Chris Ryan ensured that the show ran smoothly and his crew were efficient and unobtrusive. Balance was not quite right in the sound department at times, as the orchestra’s underscoring was louder than the actors. Issues of this nature will often iron out as the run continues.
Sam Marzden as King Arthur carried the show and for a first timer on stage, was a believable King Arthur. His Patsy (Nick Rouse) was a great ‘second banana’ complete with coconuts for the obligatory sound effects. Ben Moody as Galahad and Matt Bearup as Lancelot provided plenty of hilarity and solid vocal backup. Stand out of the male leads was Matthew Hadgraft as Sir Robin, whose characterisation, singing and comedy timing was impressive. Lisa Nightingale as the Lady of the Lake, was again a first time lead and looked suitably regal. Other notable performances came from Daniel Cooper as Mrs Galahad and Jake Waterworth as Prince Herbert.
On opening night, the audience enjoyed every moment of the show. Whilst being a fan of Monty Python humour gives even further associations to moments of the show, Spamalot does stand alone as a piece of musical theatre entertainment. MLOC have produced colourful and engaging show with plenty of fish-slapping, Trojan rabbits, Knights of Ni (who are looking for shrubbery), and lewd French soldiers. And what’s more, there’s a singalong. Something for everyone, really.