Review: Spamalot. Mellow Dramatics. The Brewhouse Burton.

The charm of a local theatre is unmistakeable. Especially a busy one. And on tonight’s opening night of Spamalot, The Mellow Dramatics is on the charm offensive, packing out this lovely little venue once again.

Tonight’s audience – an eclectic mass of eager beavers – is already a hive of excitement, especially intrigued with the giant-sized tin of Spam sitting stage right. Feeling hungry, I was ecstatic to see a recipe for Spam Mac N’ Cheese in page 10 of the programme. Kitsch? Nope. Offbeat perhaps. I’m loving it.

Based on the 1975 film, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s Spamalot was first performed in 2005, and to me, depicts the funniest parody of the French I have and probably will ever see. It’s got everything but a trail of baguettes and I don’t in the slightest way feel guilty about it.

932 AD. We meet King Arthur and his servant, Patsy, who carries all their belongings whilst clip-clopping coconuts together to signify they’re on horseback, because there isn’t so much as a hobby horse in sight – a famous Monty Python joke that still garners much amusement tonight.

Arthur is on a mission: he has a very round table, and he needs to source some brave knights to sit at it. He doesn’t quite acquire the calibre he had in mind, but leads the team he has to Camelot, and onwards to help him in the quest for the Holy Grail (this is just a cup, by the way. A cup)

Arthur, played wonderfully by Johnny Salt, is a seemingly stereotypical sort of king: bellowing, proud, superior – but that makes the various times he engages in silly debate all the funnier, and he’s easily led astray. Salt is a strong performer and projects very well. He’s indulging the script but remains unpretentious, graciously sharing the stage with cast and ensemble.

The knights are all well cast as the hapless but loyal crew – my favourite being Joe Bromfield’s Lancelot. Eventually outed with the help of some rather fetching Y-Fronts and a bouncy song and dance to boot, Bromfield’s talent really shines as he takes on various supporting roles. His rendition of the memorable Frenchman strikes the biggest chord with the audience: ‘Your mother was a hamster!’ must be one of the most ridiculous and creative ways to insult someone even by today’s standards. I’m not sure if it was planned to have his moustache fall off mid flow, but it makes it all the funnier.

George Radley as the very camp Sir Robin goes down very well with the audience; totally believable as the very antithesis of a brave knight with a raging desire to put on a musical. And what’s wrong with that?

Johnny Moore as Sir Galahad is bright and enjoyable. His dressing down of the King during their initial meeting, chastising him for being appointed King by a sword instead of the electorate obviously resonates with class divides today – it’s a great interaction.

If you hadn’t already heard, Eric Idle pops up as a cameo…by video recording that is. He’s God Almighty: hacked off, threatening to invent America and bestowing Arthur with the momentous quest to find the Holy Grail.

Undoubtedly though, the star of the show is Alison Broadley as The Lady of The Lake. Responsible for appointing the King with the gift of Excalibur, she’s the constant guide of wisdom and encouragement. But who is this woman?? Broadley, I mean. Where did they get her from? She’s just in a completely different league. Assisted by some rather resplendent costumes (bravo, Jane Bagshaw and Janet Powis) including a killer catsuit and an absolutely fantastic voice; she’s not exactly ethereal, more diva extraordinaire meets general queen of everything. Her performance of ‘Whatever happened to my part’ is hilarious. A fabulous comedy actress, Broadley commands the stage whenever she places a toe on it.

The songs come thick and fast in this musical, sweeping the narrative through with pace and vigour. Musically its strong, playful, and energetic; so, a big thank you to Musical Director, Rachael Histed, because the numbers really do go down well. Actually, I’d have loved for the band (who remained behind the scenes) to pop out at the end for their applause because they earned it.

Set Designer (Director, Andrew Warner) keeps things simple, fun, and silly; it’s just what it needs to be – a castle in the background serving as various locations with all the action taking place in two swift acts; no interchangeable set, no lavish costumes (apart from Lady In The Lake) The essence and brilliance of Spamalot is just what can be achieved on a shoestring, so it wouldn’t feel right to see a grand set or expensive props (props to the props team, Andrew Warner (again), Jean Ewards and Helen Thrupp – I love their ‘dark & expensive forest’.)

The choreography isn’t perfectly executed, but it’s all part of the appeal and everyone is in high spirits. The Laker Girls’ chorus are a sparkling bunch of energy and smiles (I instantly notice Daisy Parker as one of the Laker’s, after watching her recently as one of the leads in Little Theatre’s Avenue Q – she’s a real gem).

It can’t be easy to reproduce a show like this, with so many well-known and used jokes. It must be difficult to find new ways to deliver with fresh appeal. The script has been modified slightly to reflect more contemporary jokes/ themes – they even incorporate Burton itself in the song ‘You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz’ – but I don’t think Andrew Warner and Helen Thrupp’s production has rested on any laurels here. Everyone is clearly having a great time, but they take the material seriously and are earnest in their portrayals. Although it needs more Jews. Just sayin’.

I remember a creative writing teacher once telling me that the first time he’d watched Spamalot, he emerged feeling galvanised and compelled to write his own smash hit musical that would still be performed in twenty years’ time. He never did that, so we’re grateful to the ones that did. All hail Monty Python and The Mellow Dramatics! They sing from the diaphramalot in Spamalot!

On until 20th May


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