The Invitation Theatre Company at St.Mary’s, Devizes ~ a dress rehearsal review
England, 932 AD, and the country is ravaged by plague, purposeless, pestered by the French, and in need of a firm hand at the helm. Enter Arthur, King by virtue of the fact that once he was given a sword by a watery tart, and his hapless servant Patsy, coconut clip clopping across the land in search of knights to save the day, the funniest fart joke, and the nebulous Grail.
Such is the plot of Jemma Brown and TITCO’s production of Monty Python’s musical comedy Spamalot, loosely based on the film ‘Monty Python and The Holy Grail’ and first performed on Broadway in 2005.
There’s been a real buzz in town about this show, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to eagerly anticipate sinking into a pew in St. Mary’s and sighing with relief at having escaped from Britain’s current woes and impossible quests for a couple of hours.
I wasn’t disappointed. Apart from being unable to resist comparing the England of Spamalot with the country today and our own search for a nebulous Grail I was completely lost from the outset in the world of mirth, magic, and medieval silliness that TITCO had created with a little help from their friends (knights who scaled the walls to black the windows out, masters of the lights and smoke, knights with needles and an eye for fabric and design) in what has to surely be the perfect venue for such a show.
For all its silliness, Spamalot is a complicated and fast paced show involving a lot of physical comedy and choreography, and multiple costume changes for some of the characters (particularly Ian Diddams, who can’t quite remember exactly how many but was most memorable as Tim the horny Scottish enchanter). The cast did a great job of keeping up the momentum throughout, which bodes well for the rest of the run. Fish slapping and Finnish dancing, creepy monks and can can dancers, flying cows and Trojan rabbits, loose-bowelled knights and mystical misunderstandings – at no time did the action flag and if anyone fluffed a line there was far too much going on to notice.
Anthony Brown stepped out of his role as Musical Director to give a creditable performance as the idealistic but naive Arthur with Debby Wilkinson doing a fine bit of character acting as Patsy; Terésa Isaacson with her powerful voice was an imposing presence as The Lady of the Lake; all the knights were hilarious, although I have to say how much I enjoyed the performances of Chris Worthy as the not-so-brave-or-continent Sir Robin, and Matt Dauncey’s macho-but-underneath-it-all-totally-gay Sir Lancelot (steady with that lance, sir, you’ll have someone’s eye out – just saying); and Will Sexton as Prince Herbert was wonderfully wet.
Then there were the nicely played cameos – melodious mischievous minstrels, legless knights and dancing nuns, political peasants and obstreperous Frenchmen – the old songs (who doesn’t need to be reminded to ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’?) and familiar jokes, and – my favourite Python thing ever – the Knights of Ni (‘Ni.’ ‘Ni.’ Etc.).
The only negative in my view (aside from the obvious stereotyping of gay people and the French) related to the script, and that was the ‘We Won’t Succeed On Broadway If We Don’t Have Any Jews’ song. I’m still thinking about that and about what is acceptable in this day and age in the context of performance and historical record. It didn’t sit well for me at all, but I’m sure that TITCO thought hard about including it and decided to keep it in in the spirit of authenticity rather than racism.
There’s so much that is good about TITCO’s show but for me the best thing about it is that this motley group of people, many of who would not be out of place in professional productions, are one big talented dancing singing and joking happy family, and their wild enthusiasm at working together shows in both the energy they display and the quality of their performances.
And who doesn’t like a good fart joke?
The Invitation Theatre Company’s production of Spamalot, despite its archaic political incorrectness, is just the kind of silliness we need in these ridiculously serious times.
Now, back to looking for that Grail…
© Gail Foster 25th June 2019