|"What happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot"|
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 1 June 2019
The Newcastle Musical Theatre Company (NMTC) bring the Monty Python musical to the Theatre Royal this week. Complete with live band and talented cast, writer Eric Idle’s humour permeates through both the script and the lyrics. This is one comedy that easily passes the 6 laugh test.
The NETG team are fans of Spamalot. We’ve seen both professional and amateur productions of this show and found that it is one show in which there is a much smaller gap. Indeed, this NMTC production works really well as the cast understand the timing and delivery of the comedy.
This is Monty Python and so there has to be those random surreal moments and certainly this show is no exception. Before King Arthur gets started a Historian (Lindsay Gill) points out the state of Britain with plague everywhere. England is mis-heard as Finland and the ensemble start singing about Finland and do the Fisch Schlapping Song.
The musical is based upon the 1975 Monty Python movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur (Charles Doherty) is King of England and he wants to recruit a group of Knights for his Round Table. He is accompanied on his travels by his servant Patsy (Stuart Liddle), who bangs a couple of coconut shells to make a sound of a horse. This point is quickly pointed out by the first Brits that they come across who are keen to debate how a coconut could be in Britain in the middle ages.
The plague theme returns as King Arthur picks up Sir Robin (James Mitchinson) picking up Not Dead Fred (Carl Luke) from the brave, yet highly violent Lancelot (Stephen Mason). I Am Not Yet Dead is only of the early songs that both illustrates a point of the story but also sets up a comedic situation and the ‘dead’ body Fred comes back more times than a horror film baddie.
Continuing King Arthur’s collection of knights, the show takes one of its political turns as he meets the future Sir Galahad, aka Dennis (Jay Robinson). The ideas of royalty, democracy and elements of communism are discussed with Galahad’s mother (Kim Robinson) much to the annoyance of King Arthur who feels he has every right to be King. Only the appearance of the Lady of the Lake (JoJo Hatfield) appeases Galahad and he joins the group. Only, this is a Monty Python show so the Lady of the Lake arrives surrounded with a group of dancers: the Laker Girls.
The knights are completed with Sir Bedevere (Dan Collins) and Sir Not Appearing In This Show (Gawen Robinson) before they head off to Camelot for another big production number. The then pick up their quest: find the Holy Grail. The voice of God being none other than Eric Idle himself.
The tale then follows some of the interactions found in the Holy Grail movie coupled with some mad Python musical moments – largely involving the French, the Lady of the Lake, the Knights of Ni and a scary bunny.
Over the top dance numbers, some non-pc humour and musical references take nothing away from the fact that this is a good comedy. The cast, under director Bea Atkinson, release the humour in the situation without over doing it. The timings of the punch lines worked well even if they result in a sharp intake of breath as 2019 morality isn’t always compatible with comedy that originated in the 1970s.
The dance routines have the flamboyance of a pre-war musical Hollywood film. Choreographer Sandra Laidler got the whole ensemble moving around the stage with colour and a touch of pizazz. Backing the beat was a large live band under musical director Malcolm Moffat.
There were a few first night nerves but no more than we’ve witnessed in other big productions. The butterflies did not stop us enjoying the musical and the comedy that underpins it.
Charles Doherty comfortably commands as King Arthur which is essential for the show to work. Likewise Stuart Liddle completes the double act with a Patsy that complements the King’s authority. The assorted knights of the round table add to the tapestry that the show weaves.
Supporting the comedy, mention must also go to Dan Greener and Gawen Robinson whom each had a number of roles and managed to come across differently in each one. They were a source of a number of laughs through the show.
Spamalot does go for some stereotyping that is, possibly, becoming less acceptable so it is possible that this show joins the list that are not performed any more. But that call is for some point in the future.
We laughed, we sang (Always Look on the Bright Side of Life) and we enjoyed our night at the theatre. The cast worked hard – it must have been crazy backstage with some of the costume changes – and delivered a classic slice of Python fun.
Review by Stephen Oliver.
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On The Web:
Spamalot runs at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal from Tuesday 28 May to Saturday 1 June, with tickets priced from £13 and available at www.theatreroyal.co.uk.