OnStage Northants review of Spamalot

Performance: 5th June 2018

Review by Laura Davey of OnStage Northants

Here to turn history on its head, Spamalot The Musical has made its way to Sharnbrook with King Arthur and his round table ‘riders’ in tow. Playing at the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre at £12 a ticket, expectations are high, with the pressure of the Python’s witty material making audiences curious as to how the cast might add up…

As my first time dipping my toe into both Spamalot and Sharnbrook, my Lady of the Lake-like enthusiasm to find an equivalent Excalibur-esque performance was well met in the director’s choice of show. As established comedy veterans with their recent funny take on Macbeth (Farndale Avenue), the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre Trust deftly deliver a sizzling take on the Pythons style and story. We are firmly planted into the muddy Middle Ages alongside King Arthur whose unpredictable misadventures have to be seen to be believed.

For die-hard Python film fans there’s no need to panic – the story is still an ‘armless bit of fun for the mysterious Sir Knight, small furry mammals do indeed still provoke terror and the Grail is the centrepiece. New addition to the story, the Lady of the Lake, only adds to the hilarious tale with any stage giggles leaving audiences wondering whether what went wrong actually went wrong and whether we even mind when it’s this funny.

As a film adaptation, Spamalot provides new opportunities for fans to meet more fleshed out characters by tying original film scenes together in new ways. Dennis ‘I didn’t vote for you’ become Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot’s humble beginnings include being the seller of an almost-corpse. John Stevens as Galahad delivers a solid performance, laying the audience’s laughter as his feet with seasoned dexterity and style. Lester Cooke as the dark Sir Lancelot adds colour and his interactions with Samuel Robinson as Herbert dance them directly into the audience’s hearts, giving everyone a giggle.

Leisa Cooke as The Lady of the Lake plays a larger than life diva with a touch of fairy-tale princess and a sprinkling of wanton goddess, Cooke’s delicious delivery is rightly complimented by her impressive range and eye-catching costumes.

The Excalibur potential of this show, of course, lies in its actors. (A cast of which startlingly for musical comedy, consists of a male majority.) Ian Stark as Arthur plays exactly as the Britons intended. Brash, posh and the propeller of the plot, Stark is the pillar of the cast, setting the parodic tone with a quick wiggle of his hips during his entrance trot with the lovable Patsy (Bewlay Stanton). As the token Dunce, Stanton’s performance seems simplest to play though his comedy chops certainly bringing home the bacon in Act Two during Patsy’s solo ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’

A self-confessed Python fan, Mark Woodham warrants a spot among the originals with his colourful impersonations across a variety of roles. David Russell as Sir Robin was a firm audience favourite as the runaway Knight, donning a blonde bobbed wig and musical theatre in his heart. Douglas Jones as Bedevere (aka the pretty one) gained a chuckle or two with his accompanying hair flicks, a true Prince Charming before his time.

With such a lively principal cast, unique comedy moments are rife but none more live and exciting than that of performances by Neil Clarke, the French Knight and Historian whose energy outshines his years. Clarke’s wit and visual humour establish a mid-point between principal and ensemble cast, prompting a new balance of the shows full potential with smaller ensemble roles to establish a more outrageous attitude and design comedy moments of their own.

Overall Monty Python and small-scale theatre are a match made in heaven! With Sharnbrook we are the lucky few who get to see and hear the original laughs that the Python team intended, a silly story on a budget that audiences are keen to take to heart. Musical comedy in this style is a perfect choice drawing on the natural comic timing of Sharnbrook’s principal cast. Budget is best, and today’s audiences need more tongue-in-cheek shows like this to sink their teeth into.

A good Knight out.