South Staffs Musical Theatre Company have chosen a real classic piece of British nonsense for their production this year. Monty Python’s Spamalot (lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail) is Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s often very clever send up of Musical Theatre history, combined with all the well-loved Python sketches and gags from the 1975 film (and a few extras from the TV series for good measure).
The cast, under the direction of Alf Rai, threw themselves into the silliness of it all with great gusto, and there were some great laughs to be had, not least from the famous French taunting scene. The pace at the start of the evening did feel a little slow (and technical issues meant that Roger Stoke’s well delivered Historian was not always audible), but it soon picked up with the entry of the Lady of the Lake (Natasha Bennett Ince), displaying a very impressive vocal range and range of singing styles.
Leading the cast, Jon Ranwell as Arthur had the right amount of dead pan humour, and was very well supported by the excellent Patsy of James Collins, complete with the obligatory Python coconut shells. Ranwell’s I’m All Alone, delivered with Collin’s exasperated reactions throughout, was a particular stand out moment.
Idle’s script does, to me, seem rather disjointed; a series of scenes and sketches very loosely linked. I appreciate some may say that that is rather the point of a Python show, but it didn’t seem to flow very freely, particularly in the first half. Also there was an issue with not being able to hear the chorus vocals. Some eerily magical vocal moments when Arthur first introduces The Lady were less effective as the on stage microphones were simply not strong enough to pick up the chorus voices. This was a shame as the chorus were working very hard. Maybe a few singers supporting from an off stage mic could have helped.
However this did not spoil a very enjoyable evening over all. Knights Carl Cook, Simon McGee, Mike James and Chris Dowen all had very strong comedy moments, Dowen’s cameo as Prince Herbert’s father being particularly strong. And the dancers, choreographed well by Zoe Russell, had a ball moving energetically through just about every dance style known to musical theatre.
Ince’s Lady of the Lake nearly had her “Star of the show” tag stolen late on by the very vibrant cameo of Adam Starr as the rather camp Prince Herbert, but her range of vocal styles was simply dazzling.
Amazingly she is sharing the role this week (as there is only one female role in the show) with her sister. Tough act to follow, sis!
Musical direction was by Rob Murray, and as the strong band played the last bars of the final sing-a-long Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, the audience left with a very warm smile, knowing they had seen a very hard working company give them a thoroughly silly night’s entertainment.
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