And Now for Something Completely Different…
Spamalot: the Monty Python Musical
Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre
Tuesday 25 February 2020
Review by Jono Oates
‘What…the Curtains…??’ – this pretty harmless sounding line appeared in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail but was enough to reduce myself, and my brothers, to helpless giggles and we repeated the line over and over whenever anyone mentioned the word curtain or used the phrase ‘is this yours’. The line was spoken by the character Prince Herbert, one of the Knights of the Round Table, and played by the wonderful comedy actor Terry Jones, one of the Monty Python gang, and who sadly passed away in December this year.
The musical Spamalot, based on the Pythons’ film, appeared on Broadway in 2005, before transferring to the West End. It uses lots of the catch phrases and scenes from the film, but also includes original scenes, material, songs and stage props not seen in the original film.
The Lichfield Operatic Society (LOS) have chosen Spamalot as one of their two productions at the Lichfield Garrick this year – and it is a hilarious and hugely enjoyable selection!
The Pythons’ irreverent look on life, use of strong language, double-entendres and childish, almost schoolboy playground, humour are all here in abundance. There are plenty of jokes, silly slapstick scenes (including face slapping with a fish!), daft dialogue and weird and wacky stage props to keep the audience happy and for those who remember the 1970s Python TV series, or who have seen the original film, more than happy.
Both acts fly along cheerfully and brightly, and from the opening number you can hear the audience giggle, applaud and whisper the better-known catch phrases along with the actors.
The plot (if you can call it that!!) basically retells the Arthurian tale of the Knights of the Round Table as King Arthur sets out to find a band of knight brothers to help him, and his loyal servant Patsy, hunt down the legendary Holy Grail. As his mismatched group stumble along on their journey of discovery they meet a whole cast of oddball characters: Scottish giants, madcap Frenchmen, Dark Knights, rabbits, cows and can-can girls straight out of Moulin Rouge!
After all kinds of scrapes, fights, ambushes, blood-letting and misadventures the knights finally achieve their mission and reach the iconic city of Camelot to discover romance and an extravagant musical finale to celebrate the success of their mission.
The LOS throw themselves in to this livewire of a musical with great gusto, enthusiasm, joy and (for an amateur production) with great professionalism. It is a very experienced cast with a whole of host of credits behind them, with either the LOS or other local production companies, and this experience definitely counts, making the whole show a pleasure to watch. Adam Gregory as the heroic, and fully coiffured Sir Galahad, Adam Lacey as the dashing and brave Sir Lancelot, Patrick Jervis as the not-so-brave-well-terrified-actually Sir Robin and Cameron Morgan as the ‘I’ve got a not-so-cunning plan’ Sir Bedevere all provide great comic characterisations as the four main knights and Dan Anketell is good fun as the big girls blouse Prince Herbert (of the curtains fame!).
Victoria Elliott is new to the LOS company (and new to me as a theatre reviewer) but made an immediate impact with some wonderful, multiple chord-change, vocal artistry and great comic timing as The Lady in the Lake, who has delivered the magical sword Excalibur to King Arthur. One of the – several – running gags is Spamalot’s constant lampooning of traditional musical song styles and chords and this is executed brilliantly, and very funnily, by Victoria. Hopefully this will be the first of many performances with the LOS.
James Pugh as Arthur’s hang dog, put-upon, unloved serf Patsy and is…well…just laugh out loud funny. He is one of those performers who just has to walk out on stage, grin at the audience, and they just start to chuckle. His relationship with Arthur is very well matched and they bounce off each other with obvious relish and enjoyment. Another wonderful comic performance from James, an actor who is funny whether line quoting front of stage or goofing around in the background, always a class act.
Our hero though is King Arthur and it is a fantastic lead performance from the ever-reliable Pete Beck. Strong and forceful as the King of the Britons but also weak, uncertain and charmingly funny as he is challenged by killer rabbits and unruly Frenchmen, it is another excellent performance and he leads the show with true style and panache.
The rest of the cast are all excellent and there are some terrific ensemble pieces in the show. Another of the running gags involves backstage crew who appear to be taking over the stage and there is also a very funny slice of audience participation which is very clever and brings in a bit of Garrick panto to late February!
The songs are catchy, some well-known from the film and others less so and the dance routines are dazzling and high tempo, with choreography from Jessica Lambert and musical direction by David Easto.
Chris Stanley, very used to treading the boards at the LOS, takes a turn behind the scenes with his first time as the Musical Director. As a fine comic actor (and with a Python-esque sense of fun and wacky humour as I know from my time working with him way back when!) Chris settles in to this role very easily and the cast are clearly having a ball with some stand out performances and a rousing production.
The show finishes with the sing-along classic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, taken from the film The Life of Brian, and written by Eric Idle and is the perfect ending to the show, especially in respect of the loss of Terry Jones earlier this year. The cast received a long, and richly deserved ovation as the curtain fell.
This is a very funny, and wonderful homage, to Terry and all of the Pythons, bringing back many happy memories, and laughs, to one of the greatest TV, and film, comedic partnerships in British entertainment and is guaranteed to make you giggle and laugh out loud – even if you haven’t ever seen the TV shows, or any of the films!
There are only a handful of seats left for the remaining shows but, if you can get your hands on even one, I’d recommend that you rush to the Box Office now and see if they can squeeze you in – it’s definitely worth it!
Spamalot by the Lichfield Operatic Society runs nightly at the Lichfield Garrick main theatre at 7.30pm until Saturday 29 February with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday.
Book by visiting the Box Office on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or visit the website: wwww.lichfieldgarrick.com
And Now for Something Completely Different…