BWW REVIEW: The Marvellous Madness of Monty Python Comes To The Sydney Stage With SPAMALOT
Tuesday 12th March 2019, 7:30pm, Hayes Theatre
The classic comedy stylings of Monty Python kicks off Hayes Theatre's 2019 season with One Eyed Man Production's new take on SPAMALOT. Following on from their successful 2017 and 2018 seasons of CALAMITY JANE One Eyed Man Productions has returned to Hayes with another hilarious night of interactive theatre where no seat is truly safe from active involvement in the experience.
For many, the mention of Monty Python stirs up fond memories of the absurd British "surrealist comedy" of dead parrots, after dinner mints, coconuts and the inimitable Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. SPAMALOT is Eric Idle (Book, Lyrics and music) and John Du Prez's award winning musical theatre take on Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin's (Collectively known as the Pythons) second movie, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. The musical sees the Python's trademark clever combination of verbal and physical comedy coming together with additional swipes at the musical theatre genre to present a parody of the English Medieval legend of King Arthur (Cramer Cain) and his quest for the Holy Grail.
As with CALAMITY JANE, Director Richard Carroll has opted to keep the audience close to the action with half the audience on stage flanking a traverse performance space whilst the remainder occupy Hayes Theatre's traditional seating. Emma Vine's design further helps immersing the audience in the work as they enter via the side door of the theatre and must move through the performance space to get to their seats. Painted murals by James Needham and Isabella Andronos line the walls of the space with images echoing Terry Gilliam's collages of that featured in the shows. The performance space is dominated by a small circular podium and a series of painted scenes provide more defined backdrops to the otherwise simple set. Elements, from costuming to props are in keeping with the Python's low budget approach to their pieces with amusing adaptation of found objects and substitutions. Of note with regards to the costuming creations, overseen by costume supervisor Sallyanne Facer, are the King of Swamp Castle's remarkable 'fur' coat and the Lady of the Lake's array of sparkling ensembles.
Director Richard Carroll gives the work, which debuted on Broadway in 2005, a refreshing update in terms of casting and, as with other international productions; Star Song has been updated for the Australian audience with the assistance of Virginia Gay and Rob Johnson. In addition to the traditionally female role of the Lady of the Lake, presented by Josie Lane, Carroll has Bishanyia Vincent in the role of Patsy, King Arthur's loyal squire, and Jane Watt as Sir Bedevere, The Strangely Flatulent. The rest of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are represented by Aaron Tsindos as Sir Lancelot the Homicidally Brave, Blake Appelqvist as Dennis the Politically Active Peasant who becomes Sir Galahad the Dashingly Handsome, and Marty Alix as the Dead Collector who is elevated to Sir Robin the Not Quite So Brave as Sir Lancelot. The Historian and Prince Herbert of Swamp Castle is presented by Rob Johnson and an additional role is amusingly 'performed' by the long suffering Assistant Stage Manager Bronte MacInnes.
The ensemble comes together well to deliver an evening that triggers memories of scenes and phrases that have become part of popular culture. Long term Python fans can be seen mouthing words and lighting up with glee as iconic gags are pre-empted whilst newcomers express the joy of experiencing the jokes and physical humour for the first time. Alix, who recently won the hearts of audiences as Sonny in IN THE HEIGHTS, gives the Knight who joined up to sing and dance a gloriously camp charm as he flounces and flits whilst shows off strong vocals. Lane is perfect as the damp diva that doles out weapons from water, giving the Lady of the Lake a bold voice and commanding presence. Appelqvist leads some spectacular dance numbers including an impressive tap sequence whilst Watt gives Sir Bedevere a maniacal air and Tsindos suitably expressive as he chews the scenery. Cain ensures that King Arthur is appropriately absurd and Vincent delivers another brilliant performance of a downtrodden and underappreciated side kick, having just finished a season as Sadie in THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE. Johnson's turn as Prince Herbert is hilarious and he lends a delightful nerdiness to the Historian.
Whilst sound balances still require some tweaking with the instrumentals, led by Musical Director Contrad Hamill, often overpowering the lyrics, this is an enjoyable evening of entertainment that isn't too taxing on the brain. The local adaptations are delightful, the voice of God is perfect and Carroll's nod to the movie's opening credits subtitles can be found in the programme with an intriguing statement for those so inclined to seek a translation.
SPAMALOT is a fun night of theatre for Monty Python Fans but be warned, the pre-show disclaimer posters indicating audience engagement is serious, even for those not in the front rows.