Reviewed: Monty Python’s Spamalot

ANU Interhall Productions has this year tackled Monty Python’s Spamalot, the musical adaptation of the classic film Monty Python & The Holy Grail. Seldom do we stumble upon a musical the film of which is generally regarded as the benchmark. This, in turn, creates cumbersome difficulty for those involved in the musical. A film can be made perfect, as its production ensures that the human imperfections are removed or rectified. Consequently, Milly Cooper (director) alongside her team and cast were faced with a monumental task. A task doomed for failure, some would say. Can a bunch of too-often-hungover university students manage such a task, and construct a quality production? Yes, they definitely can. With great poise and admirable dedication, this year’s production of Spamalot has been executed brilliantly.

For the most part, the musical itself stays true to the original film, keeping some of the more memorable gags such as the siege of the French castle and the Black Knight. It is in Act II that the writers have turned The Holy Grail on its head, reinvented it and sprinkled their creative powders on top. A hilarious piece of surreal comedy, Spamalot offers lighthearted comic relief through simple slapstick and particular techniques of Metatheatre, with emphasis on the meta.

As a satire of the Arthurian Legend, it is only logical for the performance to start with Finnish dancers and some good ol’ fish-slappin’. Eventually we are introduced to King Arthur (Nathan Randell) and his faithful amigo, Patsy (Eliza Shephard). Initially the objective is to recruit his Knights of the Round Table to join him on his future quest: the search for the Holy Grail. Sir Robin (James Kelly) and Sir Lancelot (Tim Crundall) are the first to join him, with the subsequent addition of Sir Galahad (Josh Griffiths), Sir Bedevere (Fletcher Lodwick) and Sir Not-Appearing-On-This-Show (H.O. Hall). The dynamic amongst these merry men is fantastic, with each adopting a separate and unique role keeping the audience well entertained. Whilst the internal chemistry remained constant throughout, Galahad and Arthur struggle to create believable chemistry with the Lady of the Lake (Kate Reardon). Spamalot is admittedly not a romance, but there was sufficient scope there for the Randell-Reardon or Griffiths-Reardon duos to warm some hearts. Nonetheless, Kate was more than capable of delivering the musical standards demanded of her by her character. Nerves might have betrayed her volume at times, but her true capacity is at full display in her superb rendition of The Diva’s Lament.

Sir Lancelot, Herbert (AJ Proudford) and Herbert’s Father (Matthew Sykes) are a trio deserving of a special mention. Crundall was well capable of portraying the duality of Lancelot’s character, maintaining a good balance between himself and the flamboyancy of Herbert. His dancing proved to be somewhat of a letdown, but Proudford was quick to return the favour and took it upon himself to ensure that the dancing standards were nothing but exceptional. Speaking of dancing, many kudos should go to Ben Purser  for a splendid choreography, particularly in Run Away (soooo goood). Moving on, a couple of things should be said about Matthew Sykes, who also plays the infamous French Taunter and the Black Knight. Sykes’ execution of these key memorable characters is first-class, and it was delightful to see an original interpretation that still maintains that classic Monty Python familiarity. With an awful French accent and a ridiculous set of arms, Sykes succeeds at achieving the comedic standard demanded by these characters.

An honourable mention needs to be made to Kat Carrington (Stage Manager) and Casey White (Set Designer). Giant ram-looking rabbits and flying cows were only a few of the amazing props thrown around throughout the performance, adding to the absurdity of it all. The genius dynamic created by the side towers and surprise castles enrich the production one step further, with an overall great result from Kat and Casey.

What was truly impeccable and surprisingly well-executed was the relationship created between King Arthur and his loyal companion Patsy. As a character, Patsy has taken a major step into the the foreground of the action, assuming a significant role throughout the performance. This isn’t merely because of the cruciality Patsy plays in sound effects, but rather due to the relationship forged between him and King Arthur, which bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The two are inseparable, yet polar opposites. On one end you have King Arthur struggling to differentiate between the reality of his situation and his perception of it, and on the other there’s Patsy offering steadfast support to help keep him, as well as the show, on track. Adding golden comedic value as well as a much needed emotional layer, Eliza Shephard left me completely astounded in her interpretation of Patsy. She absolutely nailed the essence of the character, and together with Nathan achieved a truly memorable performance. For her, I have nothing but praise.

Little more can be said about the calibre (ex-calibre?) of Spamalot. It is an extraordinary and wholesome production, offering something for everyone and promising copious laughter. Having raised the bar for ANU productions to come, these guys have made me a Spamalot convert, and I will definitely be going back within the next week for a second dose of creative genius.