SOS Presents MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton Mark Ponsford 25 January 2024
Spamalot, that delicious musicalisation of Monty Python And The Holy Grail, has, over the years, become a pretty safe bet as a Show That Sells, and such is my devotion to it that I bought my tickets for this current production as soon as they went on sale last year. Being subsequently invited to review it was an unexpected bonus, not least since I’ve seen around a dozen productions of the piece over the years… though I am reliably informed that one of this week’s audience members has chalked this one up as number 22!
We enter the auditorium to the sound of sweet, distant birdsong, and since it’s pretty much the only sane moment of the evening, we’d be advised to make the most of it. As soon as the pre-show announcements have been made (by God, no less, in the casting coup of all time), we know exactly what we’re in for, and it’s not long before the fun kicks in. This could be the only musical to feature an entire opening number that turns out to be the wrong one, and once the error is pointed out, the ensemble slope off, having been slapped repeatedly by fish (don’t ask), leaving the field clear for the arrival of King Arthur. Anyone who saw Mike Pavitt’s debut in this role for Waterside Musical Society several years ago (and if you didn’t, then frankly I burst my pimples at you) will be as delighted as I was to witness the Return of the King, gloriously deadpan, increasingly exasperated, and somehow never losing a scrap of dignity, even during a Tap Break that has to be seen to be believed.
There’s so much to admire about this show, not least in its adaptation from the original film to a full-on musical romp for all the family, and the very mixed audience on Thursday evening responded with great warmth and enthusiasm to the skillfully constructed mayhem. It’s not without a few moments of splendid political incorrectness, which Director Wayne Reddin has wisely chosen to retain, and the volume of laughter was enough to prove yet again, if proof were needed, that today’s theatregoers are hardly as delicate as all that. Only the number ‘You Won’t Succeed’, despite some clever new lyrics delivered excellently by Dan Farrell’s Sir Robin, doesn’t quite land with the wallop of its original incarnation. But then, the original version of the song was designed primarily for Broadway (not to mention a Broadway Audience), and with the exception of the original London showing, has frequently been reworked in productions on this side of The Pond. (The show’s untouched lyrics land as effectively as ever, with couplets such as “We’re Opera-mad in Camelot/We sing from the diaphragm a lot” worthy of the great Groucho Marx).
It’s also no fault of this current production that the reference to the Laker Girls, somewhat dated even when the show premiered, seems even more dated now. But these are quibbles when measured against the rest of the fun, which reaches some enjoyable peaks during the course of the evening. Antony Morrison’s bluff, deadpan comic delivery as Dennis Galahad is a delight, as is George Tate’s Patsy, lighting up the stage with a winning charm every time he appears. There’s also Chris Pearce’s butch Lancelot and Russell Dutton’s innocently bumbling Sir Bedevere; and in one of the funniest sequences, Richard Peaty’s hilarious, camp, and certifiably bonkers Prince Herbert. Nor must we forget Sophie Barnard’s imperious, Diva-tastic Lady of the Lake, whose spectacular vocals are combined with some fine (and occasionally alarming!) comic touches.
Amy Wardle’s Musical Direction is excellent, as are Lex Harrison’s charming and effectively choreographed routines. The large Ensemble (although the volume of stage traffic can be an occasional distraction from the comic focus) bring a constantly effective punch, both collectively and individually, and among the many outstanding cameo performers are Michael Clarkson, who does a great Mrs Galahad/Tim double, and Zoe Wilcox as the French Taunter, with an excruciatingly hilarious accent that I’d happily use as my ringtone.
Wayne Reddin has marshalled the merry mayhem with some clever original touches, in addition to his filmed cameo (I’ve heard of Directors playing God, but this is ridiculous!), and it’s a directorial debut that augers well for the future. At the end of the evening, with the metaphorical Fourth Wall gone for good, the cast invite the audience to join in a reprise of the much-loved ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’, which they do, with heartwarming enthusiasm. It has to be one of the happiest curtain-moments in Musical Theatre, and anyone who disagrees with me on this point can go and boil their bottoms, for clearly their Mothers were hamsters, and their Fathers smelt of elderberries!