Tag Archives: Eric Idle

Grail Trail

SPAMALOT

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 2nd June, 2019

 

Eric Idle’s musical parody of Arthurian legend speaks of a leader who will rise from chaos to unite a divided country… We couldn’t half do with King Arthur today!  I doubt such a leader will spring from the current Tory leadership contest.

This lavish production at the Crescent is directed by Keith Harris, bringing together all the technical elements of the production and marrying them to an outstanding cast, with the result being a hugely impressive, massively enjoyable visit to the theatre.  They really have pulled out all the stops with this one.  Colin Judges’s splendid set of castle walls, towers and trees has just the right amount of storybook illustration to it, while Stewart Snape’s costume designs remain true to the period (when they need to) and introduce glamorously anachronistic specimens (when they don’t): the Camelot presented here has more in common with Las Vegas than Medieval England!  There is also an appearance by a magnificent wooden rabbit.  Of course there is.

Joe Harper heads the cast as King Arthur, imperious, regal and daft in equal measures.  He has a fine singing voice too – in fact, when the knights all sing together, the quality enriches the material.  Idle’s songs are pastiches, sometimes simplistic in structure, but the chorus at the Crescent still delivers the goods.  The musicians, under the baton of Gary Spruce add pizzazz and texture to the score.   Beautiful.

The female lead is Tiffany Cawthorne’s Lady of the Lake, with a dazzling display of vocal fireworks that doesn’t take itself seriously, mocking the over-singers and belters of musical theatre and elsewhere.  Cawthorne is also a delightful comic player and doesn’t miss a trick.

Among the knights there is plenty to relish: Mark Horne’s camp Sir Robin, Paul Forrest’s heroic Lancelot (who has a surprise for us later on that is deliciously realised), and Nick Owenford’s Marxist-peasant-turned-loyal-knight Dennis Galahad.  I always have a soft spot for the faithful manservant Patsy, and here Brendan Stanley does not disappoint in a masterclass of a portrayal that demonstrates how supporting roles can make a mark.  Brilliant.

There are so many highlights, so many hilarious throwaway moments, I can’t mention them all, but I have to bring attention to Katie Goldhawk’s defiant posturing as the stubborn Black Knight, Jack Kirby’s Hibernian enchanter, Tim, Luke Plimmer’s Not Dead Fred, and Dave Rodgers as a taunting French soldier.

For me, the funniest scene is between Herbert (Nick Doran) and his father (Toby Davis), with a couple of dim-witted guards and a daring rescue by Lancelot.  Doran plays the gayness of the role without mockery or stereotype and his Herbert is all the more endearing because of it.

You don’t have to be a Monty Python aficionado to be royally entertained.  For those of us that are, it’s fun to identify where Eric Idle nicked the ideas from.  Only the other day I was bemoaning the fad for adapting every bloody film into stage musicals – this is one of the best ones, not least because it makes fun of the theatrical form as much as sending up the content.

Director Keith Harris gets the tone spot on and for almost all of it, the required energy levels are there to carry it off.  This is a real tonic of a production, joyous, silly and glorious – now, if only I could stop whistling THAT SONG from The Life Of Brian…

spamalot

Brendan Stanley and Joe Harper (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

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LOL-alot

SPAMALOT

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 27th February, 2018

 

We all know them, the bores who can spout reams and reams of Monty Python scripts and manage to suck all the humour of it, as if just saying the lines is enough, when what matters, perhaps more than the clever-silliness of the words, is the delivery.  The challenge for any Spamalot cast is to go beyond reciting the familiar lines and aping the original performers.  Yes, we expect certain intonations; yes, we expect men as unconvincing women with squawky voices; and yes, we expect iconic scenes from the film (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, for those not in the know – P.S. Where have you been?) – Show’s creator Eric Idle wisely gives us all of this with plenty of new material to make something fresh, something new, something with its own life.

I say ‘fresh’ and luckily, I still mean it.  This is my fourth visit to the show.  On previous occasions, in the role of King Arthur I’ve seen comedians: Sanjeev Bhaskar, Phill Jupitus, Marcus Brigstocke, each of whom bring much of themselves to the part.  In this touring production from Selladoor, we have an actor, the excellent Bob Harms, who plays his Arthur as a character.  It makes a lot of difference.  Harms has a touch of the Graham Chapman to him, but also a little bit of Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, I think; it adds up to a silly, delightful performance, holding the show together.

King Arthur

All alone, Bob Harms

Harms is supported by equally silly, equally skilful knights.  Johnathan Tweedie’s Lancelot is a ridiculous brute, Norton James’s Galahad transforms from peasant to preening matinee idol; Stephen Arden’s cowardly Sir Robin is a lot of fun, while Mark Akinfolarin’s Sir Bedevere provides a lot of the physical comedy.  Coconut-bearer Patsy (Rhys Owen) nails the show’s most well-known song (Always Look On The Bright Side of Life – filched from Life of Brian, of course).  Sarah Harlington’s scene-stealing Lady of the Lake is magnificent: her vocal skills and parodies are remarkable – the best I’ve heard in the role.  I make special mention of Matthew Pennington, an absolute scream as Prince Herbert, among other roles, but really the comedic skills of the entire troupe are marvellous to behold.

The show is just as much a parody of musical theatre as it is a retelling of the Arthurian legend.  Knowing, self-referential and satirical, the show exposes and celebrates the genre’s conventions, wrapped up in the peculiarly British revelling in silliness the Pythons represent.  Spamalot is Monty Python-lite, lacking the edge, the sense of daring the group had when the Circus first took flight.  There are enough references to the Python oeuvre to satisfy fans, alongside topical allusions that keep the show current.  The show stands as an entity in its own right – I met someone who’d never seen it before, hadn’t seen the film, and she loved it.

And I was more than happy to reacquaint myself with the show’s delights.  Being a touring show, the production is somewhat scaled down (e.g. only two chorus girls) but there is no stinting on talent and fun.  A laugh-out-loud-and-long couple of hours with some great tunes, excellently presented and charmingly daft.  I loved it.

Dancing

A right Herbert: Matthew Pennington, backed by Marc Akinfolarin and Rhys Owen

 


Stuff and Nonsense

The Quite Remarkable Adventures of THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 21st February, 2017

 

Edward Lear’s famous nonsense poem was the springboard for a book by former Python Eric Idle.  Now the book is adapted for the stage by composer and musical director, Dougal Irvine (who also provides the voice of the ‘Small Guitar’ and an imaginary dragon!).

The production is nothing short of charming.  An energetic ensemble of actor-musicians, led by Irvine, get proceedings underway with an audience singalong – normally the kind of thing to make me shrink in my seat, but the tune is infectious, the lyrics (including animal noises) are fun, and so I join in and am immediately put into a good mood, and predisposed to think kindly of the action as it unfolds.

The titular pair, both riddled with self-doubt and low self-esteem, form a bond when, Deep Impact style, they notice a comet is heading directly for the Earth, threatening an extinction event not seen since the dinosaurs were wiped out.  They inform an appropriate human at a university and set out on a quest to find the runaway Bong Tree (voiced by Idle himself, no less!).  Meanwhile, the show’s baddie, Lord Firelord is planning to wipe out all life on Earth with the creation of a new ice age…

The charm of the actors and the richness of the score, with its lively melodies and clever lyrics, keeps us on board this ride in the pea-green boat.  There is some social comment here – humans are too preoccupied with shopping to notice or care about their imminent destruction, and there is an obvious environmental message – but I think the show’s ‘lessons’ are in danger of being considered ‘nonsense’ along with the rest.  Characters take pride in speaking nonsense; anything they say that we are meant to take on board could easily be dismissed…

That aside, this is an enjoyable, family show, performed with verve and heart.  Danny Lane as Owl, and Sally Frith as Pussycat, are likeable protagonists, and their singing voices blend magnificently in their duets.  Miri Gellert impresses, voicing two glove puppets at once – similarly, Yanick Ghanty portrays a pair of henchmen simultaneously.  A comic highlight of the show is when he falls out with himself and beats himself up in a skilful display of physical comedy.  Vedi Roy plays bad guy Firelord with relish, complete with maniacal laughter, although I found his costume made him look like an Indian Elvis in Vegas.  Lizzie Wofford’s Pig and Professor Bosh show her versatility as a character actor – her singing voice is particularly powerful.

Director Hamish Glen balances larger-than-life characters and outlandish events with quieter, emotional moments, allowing the cast to bring out the ‘human’ (for want of a better word) side of the characters.  The kids in the audience are clearly enrapt by the drama with its themes of global extinction and mortality, friendship and love, while the adults enjoy the sharper jokes.  Libby Watson’s versatile set forms a backdrop for Dick Straker’s video projections, to depict the story’s various locations attractively and economically.  But for me, the production is all about one man – Mr Dougal Irvine.  His script is enriched by his compositions, a beautiful score other, larger productions would do well to emulate (I’m looking at you, Wonderland!)

owl-cast