REVIEW: Monty Python’s Spamalot by Ulster Operatic Company

Making his directorial debut both with this company and at Belfast’s Grand Opera House this week, Neil Keery had a challenge every bit as difficult as King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail … because this irreverent parody of Arthur’s famous legend and unconventional send-up of musical theatre itself is like nothing else in the genre.

With an almost cult following, it is totally ‘off the wall’ and far removed from the usual musical comedy offerings.

However, Keery surrounded himself here with what could easily have been a hand-picked cast of principals and a talented ensemble to make this show an artistic success and, hopefully, the commercial one it deserves to be.

Based on the 70s film, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, this colourful and entertaining production was a total hoot from its fish-slapping, head-thumping and coconut-clacking start to its overly-reprised finale.

Python’s mad-cap world of misfit knights, killer rabbits, beautiful showgirls and ferocious Frenchmen was also peppered with both contemporary and local references, plus equally funny moments of additional visual humour to guarantee audiences an evening of total mayhem and madness.

In ways, a non-professional production of this show works better than that of a professional company because amateur productions can – as was the case here – field a more populated ensemble to fill the show out on a large stage and to make both choral and choreographic moments sound and look bigger and better.

Indeed, the combined strength of the creative team – Director, Neil Keery, Musical Director, Wilson Shields, and Choreographer, Brooke Allen – ensured that this was the case throughout.

One of the biggest challenges for this production (as is the case with other shows like Me & My Girl) was to be able to make such a joke-based show sound and look fresh to those who have already heard the jokes before in previous productions (after all, hearing a comedian telling the same gags can never be as funny the second or third time around).

However, all played their respective part to ensure that Eric Idle’s hilarious script was well-delivered with some brilliant examples of good comic timing in both its verbal and visual humour.

If the line-up of principals here appeared hand-picked, then the same could be said of the quality musicians in Wilson Shields’ 12-piece orchestra, who handled the varied score with ease.

Lying somewhere between a musical comedy and a pantomime (there is audience participation … oh, yes there is!) highlights here included: the hilarious, I Am Not Dead Yet; the show-stopping send-up, The Song That Goes Like This; the big production values of Knights Of The Round Table; the excellent choral work in Find Your Grail; the ever popular sing-a-long, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life; the side-splitting Black Knight scene; and the razzamatazz of You Won’t Succeed On Broadway).

Choreographer, Brooke Allen, and her versatile dancers are to be congratulated for their many and varied contributions (including, Cheerleading, Tap, Can-Can etc.), which added greatly to the glamour and colour of the evening, as did the great lighting, costumes and sets.

It is also unusual to get such a male-based show being staged by an amateur company as male performers are usually in short supply, but, thankfully, some of our best were on stage in principal roles.

Colin Boyd’s logical King Arthur was in charge (?) of his hapless bunch of misfortunate misfits with a dream team of comic knights in Brian Trainor (Sir Robin), Jamie Johnston (Sir Lancelot), Ross David Chambers (Sir Dennis Galahad) and Paddy McGennity (Sir Bedevere).

While Trainor and Chambers excelled in the comedy routines, much comic praise must also go to Jordan Walsh, who, as the almost ever-present, Patsy, was the victim of the show’s many slapstick moments and provided an appropriately under-stated performance with lots of face-pulling (and the ability to whistle!).

Despite being the ‘diva’ who lamented about her small amount of time on stage, as the Lady of the Lake, Ciara Mackey was undoubtedly one of the main stars of this show.

The sheer versatility of this performer was put to the test here and, again, she rose to the challenge in terms of acting, comedy and vocal ability, performing in a range of musical styles while displaying some great vocal gymnastics.

In a smaller role, young Patrick Connor impressed greatly with his hilarious and over the top performance of the manic French Taunter – one to lookout for in the future.

Like every production, this one had a few opening night niggles, including someone walking into a tree and the show-stopping moment when the ‘armless’ Black Knight nearly lost his head, but such is the nature of this piece that no one could ever tell what was planned and what was not (indeed, so funny was the Black Knight ‘head moment’ that it really deserves to become part of this production!).

There is much to like in this production and musical theatre fans will spot nods to Gilbert & Sullivan, Fiddler On The Roof and West Side Story.

Totally irreverent in every way, this side-splitting production is every bit as anarchic and subversive as it was meant to be.

So, forget your pre-conceived ideas about musicals and catch one of the funniest shows that you will ever witness, for this is a great ‘Knight’ of entertainment and you really will ‘laugh-a-lot’ at Spamalot!!

Damien Murray

Photo credit: Ivan Connor

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Ulster Operatic Company

Grand Opera House, Belfast

Tue 10-Sat 14 Oct, 2017

Post Author: Belfast Times

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