28th April 2018
Type of Production
Author: Kevin Proctor
Whenever the legends of British comedy are discussed it never takes too long for Monty Python to get mentioned. The comedy troupe shot to fame after their TV series ‘Flying Circus’ aired in 1969, and it wasn’t long before their feature films ‘The Holy Grail’ and ‘Life of Brian’ made them a household name. Naturally, given that they get made with literally anything as a premise these days, a stage musical based on one of their films (The Holy Grail) was crafted which saw some of their famous sketches, tunes and characters thrown into the mix too. ‘Spamalot’ attracted a new generation of Python fans whilst welcoming back its ever faithful’s, proving a hit with both! While you may assume Python fans to be the primary audience, there is no need to have any familiarity with their output, as the musical still works remarkably well on its own merits.
The conventions and clichés of musical theatre are as much the butt of the joke as anything, with Helen Attisha providing a fittingly OTT snubbed diva as the Lady of the Lake. Her take on ‘Whatever Happened To My Part’ was particularly excellent, while she and Mark Wood as an expansive Sir (Dennis) Galahad make ‘The Song That Goes Like This’ genuinely funny however often you may have heard it before.
The cast throw themselves into a huge variety of roles with relish, particularly Ian Bennett who pops up with an array of eccentrics each as comical as the last. I’d go as far to say that it was such cameo roles which left some of the biggest impressions which is testament to this stout ensemble core also most notable were Mal Wood’s corpse that refuses to be dead, John Mulholland’s riotous Herbert along with Eileen Robinson as the narrator/historian with tongue firmly placed in cheek.
Before a word had been uttered, the overall presentation stood out as being rather impressive with a striking set, superb use of projection at various moments throughout the performance, an outstanding assortment or props and an eye-catching wardrobe to top it all off – an exhibition in itself. My only criticism with the set was the gauze tabs which worked as a backdrop for the projection but seemed a bit pointless to bring the cloth in to mask a scene change or for the ensemble to set up behind it … because we could still see everything that was happening! …becoming another gag in itself which I’m sure was entirely deliberate…right?
Given the cult affiliation to Monty Python this title does attract folk to the theatre who may not be the regular theatre goer, which is a wonderful trait in one respect, however, something that consistent theatre enthusiasts are likely to relate to is the ever-increasing issue with audience members who don’t know the first thing about theatre etiquette which was, sadly, out in full force on the performance I attended. Despite the occasional glare at the ignorant group who constantly chattered at full volume with their mates spread across half a row - with each glare becoming more obvious and belligerent each time - along with several attempts from others around us to get them to “shut up”, it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference. This is an issue that’s becoming all too common and is an area that theatre management need take responsibility in addressing to nip it in the bud.
Should the reader of this review be familiar with All Saints Musical Productions then they’re likely to agree that the company excel with their vocal execution - both as soloists and as an ensemble. When purely looking at the vocal requirements of ‘Spamalot’ it demands a female lead of powerhouse capability, which Helen Attisha met with aplomb! …other than that, nothing else really relies on the strength of its vocal delivery which was only brought to my attention during the rousing ‘Bright Side Of Life’ chorus which came seconds before the final curtain. One could say that All Saints were stepping out of their comfort zone with this production which doesn’t necessarily play to their musical strengths but nonetheless has allowed budding comedians to take (or steal) the limelight each bringing the personality required to convey the zany plot.
This venture successfully welcomed some new faces on to the All Saints stage with Gareth Smith putting in an adept performance as Sir Lancelot and Chris Stacey as an amusing Sir Robin.
Directed by Mike Sammon, the taking the mickey out of musicals was pitched wonderfully with hints of pantomime in the staging, which is certainly not meant as a disparaging remark being most appropriate and judiciously suggested. Constraints on a budget – felt by so many productions in our game – was far from being in evidence here making one of the boldest statements of the production which did contribute to the expectations and scale of seeing a musical at the Lowry. Hannah Davis had followed through the theme and humour of the script with her choreography which is to be highly commended, her feature Laker Girls and full ensemble numbers were slick and exciting to behold. Simon Murray and his able orchestra deliver this preppy score with vigour, not only was this the first time I’ve heard the overture ‘work’ with its assortment of sound effects he provided a solid foundation for the duration, a terrific job from all three members of this steadfast production team.
John Wood is a straightforward Arthur and at times has a reassuringly Pythonesque quality though it’s Jack Hawkin’s Patsy who kept our attention with a performance riddled with interest and quirky virtues.
I did sense the all too common matinee lull in evidence during this performance as gusto and general oomph did appear to be slightly supressed amongst the cast giving the impression that the show had been running for months and not just a few nights with its spark not shining as brightly as I’m convinced it would’ve done on other performances in its run.
‘Spamalot’ is deliciously self-aware, almost perfectly balances the references to the original jokes with some newer amendments. It’s not a slave to the source material, being brave enough to tackle controversial topics in true Python fashion. Although this wasn’t playing to the societies strengths it unearthed some others which is a risk that’s undoubtedly paid off in what was a prominent production despite the minor gripes, the biggest of which is admittedly beyond the societies control.