Tag Archives: Sarah Harlington

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

 

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Lame

FAME

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 4th March, 2014 

Fame‘s first incarnation was Alan Parker’s hard-hitting film of 1980, in which an assortment of aspiring performing arts students get their bubbles burst, their illusions shattered and their hearts broken in a variety of ways.  The film (which is still an excellent watch) was adapted into a more family-friendly television series that did pretty well.

This current production is an updated version of the stage show from a few years back, and so the characters have mobile phones and the music has an edgier, urban sound.  Ish.

But don’t expect the characters from the film or TV show.  Here we get alternative versions.  Leroy is now Tyrone, Coco is now Carmen, and beloved Mr Shorofsky is now Mr Scheinkopf.  Don’t ask me why.  The only recognisable elements are the theme song with its iconic guitar riff and the setting, the New York High School for the Performing Arts – a kind of Hogwarts for egotists and extroverts.

The trouble is, because this is a musical, everyone sings and dances all the time.  They express themselves through song and dance and they’re all bloody good at it.  The question arises: why do they need to attend a performing arts school for four years?  What can the course possibly teach them that they’re not already doing in their daily lives?  It’s a clash of form and content that could be solved by staging the story as a straight play with musical numbers, then we could see the students progress, succeed or fail.  As it is, they all look like they’ve aced the course already.

The quality of the production values is very high.  this talented ensemble exudes energy that infects and invigorates the audience.  It is a pity that the material doesn’t match their abilities.  There are so many characters there isn’t really time to develop each subplot satisfactorily.  Serena (Sarah Harlington) sings sweetly about her unrequited love for Nick (Alex Jordan-Mills) then hears a rumour he is gay.  She confronts him about it.  “I’m not gay,” he tells her.  Oh, ok then.  Problem solved.  Promising dancer Tyrone (a superb Alex Thomas) hides his illiteracy behind belligerence and swagger.  Cue an unconvincing sing-off about educational policy by the English and Dance teachers.  As Miss Sherman, Landi Oshinowo belts like a Motormouth Maybelle, but I couldn’t stomach her solo, impressively sung though it was, about thanking god for blessing her with the teaching profession.  Tyrone is eventually kicked out.  Problem solved.  Well, not really.

Joseph Giacone grabs our attention as class clown Joey (not Johnny) Vegas.  it’s disappointing that he is sort of sidelined later on.  His resolution is a throwaway line saying he’s appearing at a comedy club.  Jodie Steele is riveting as fame-hungry drama queen Carmen. who drops out to try her luck in Los Angeles, only to return broken and bedraggled and to walk in front of a car.  Not the best ending to a story that was building nicely about drug abuse.

Molly Stewart stops the show as food enthusiast Mabel with a country/gospel number about being unable to stick to a diet.  it’s a fun, feel-good moment, at the end of which she shrugs and decides to switch her major to Drama.  Problem solved.

The final scene – graduation! – has them all filing on in robes to sing the song Carmen supposedly wrote.  It’s mawkish, sentimental tripe about facing the future with optimism.  “Bring on tomorrow!”  Instead of being emotionally affecting or uplifting, it’s enough to make you sick.  Bring on the buckets, more like.

It’s not enough to update the script to name-drop Rihanna and even Freddie Prinze Jr (yes, him).  A couple of sub-plots need to be cut in order to allow the others to breathe.  And the show shouldn’t fudge any of the issues it dances around, in order to maximise emotional impact.  I think this dazzling cast of young performers deserve a better story to tell.

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