In the literary work On Lying In Bed And Other Essays by G.K. Chesterton, the great man describes Charles Dickens' masterpiece The Pickwick Papers as “...a sense of the gods gone wandering in England.”
Which is exactly how it felt tonight at The Core Theatre as an enraptured audience were entertained by Peterbrook Player's superb production of Spamalot. I do not think a single person would have been surprised to have seen the odd celestial being wandering around, so out of this world was the whole show.
As a Python obsessive, I must confess to feeling a certain sense of trepidation as I took my seat. The plot of Spamalot is taken from the 1975 Monty Python film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and I was not convinced that the unique genius of The Pythons could be reproduced anywhere, let alone in Solihull.
How wrong could I be?
The story revolves around King Arthur and his recently recruited knights attempting to find the Holy Grail. In a stunning line up of chivalrous persons, Andy Alton shone as the slightly long suffering and depressed King Arthur. It was a testimony to his 33 years treading the boards that he was able to maintain his rather melancholy character throughout the whole show, with all the madness going on around him. He was ably assisted in his quest by Patsy, his servant and loyal steed, played to perfection by Gregory March. Their rendition of I'm All Alone brought the house down. Special mention from the line up of knights (including Michael Greene as Sir Bedevere and Mike Bentley as Sir Robin) has to go to James Gough, who's comic timing and delivery took comedy to a new dimension, both in his portrayal as the 'outed' gay Sir Lancelot and also as the French Tauntor; if sent to the EU, this latter character could easily derail Brexit with one single word!
The strength of Monty Python always lay in it's success in poking fun at, and parodying of, 'The Establishment' and the order of things, and nothing showed this off better than Thom Stafford's brilliant portrayal of Dennis. He initially will not become a knight due to complex reasons surrounding the role of the Executive and the electorate in a democracy, but is then easily turned (and thus becomes Sir Galahad) by the introduction of The Lady of the Lake, portrayed with utter conviction and star quality by Penelope Simpkins. She completely owned the stage in all her scenes, and her rendition of Whatever Happened To My Part not only had the audience in stitches, but I suspect struck a chord with many an overlooked diva sitting in the audience. Her strong vocals really stood out among some stellar singing.
In every production there are a few roles which have the potential to steal the show, and the role of Prince Herbert, played with comic genius by Richard Perks, was one such part. It was testimony not only to Python's clever writing but also to Perks' natural understanding of the nuances of comedy that his conversation with Sir Lancelot about curtains had the whole audience rocking with laughter.
There were some sparkling cameos; Robert Bateman's portrayal of Not Dead Fred, not to mention his dancing, was excellent, Brendan Bloomer as Chief Ni Knight had the audience laughing uncontrollably, Richard Haddock was wonderful as Dennis's mother and no mascara was safe when Richard Bateman as The Black Knight challenged King Arthur to a duel and ended up with no limbs.
It seems too churlish to single anybody out, so strong was the line up; from principals through to dancers/Swamp Castle Guards/Herbert's Father, there was not a weak link anywhere. Every single person performed to the highest standard.
The costumes were magnificent and the set superlative. The band played with conviction and credit for the whole matchless performance has to go to the production team of Richard Agg, Jonathan Clark and Suzanne Ballard-Yates for drilling the entire cast into turning out such a West End standard show. The singing, dancing and acting were of top quality from everybody, and the tail of this motley band of knights and their search for, and ultimate success in finding, the Holy Grail was hailed by a well earned standing ovation at the end.
It was impossible not to be looking on the bright side of life as we left the auditorium, and this peerless production ensures that the legacy of Monty Python not only lives on, but is more than alive and kicking!
Spamalot runs at The Core Theatre until Saturday 14th April.
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