Writer: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez with Eric Idle
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Musical Director: Carlton Edwards
Choreographer: Ashley Nottingham
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Is this what a definitive Spamalot would look like? This perennially popular show, originally a Python spin-off, has found success on Broadway and in the West End, not to mention on the am-dram scene, as this very professional company cheekily remind us.
Over the years, from celluloid to stage, it has acquired many traditional trappings. Most of them – the fish-slapping and the bible-bashing – are honoured here, but Daniel Buckroyd’s production, at once irreverent and respectful, manages a good few laugh-aloud surprises on the way to Camelot.
Where the West End productions – and associated tours – have tended to make a virtue of necessity, celebrating the shoe-string, the Made in Colchester version is glitzier, meatier and much closer to a proper musical. Or a panto, which it often emulates. A link strengthened by the inclusion in the cast of festive favourite Dale Superville as Patsy, King Arthur’s side-kick, Baldrick or Sancho Panza.
His expressive features and his skill as a mime are employed to excellent effect; he’s one of a very accomplished company, who enter into the spirit of Spamalot with infectious glee, never self-indulgent, playing the absurdities for all they’re worth. Patsy and Arthur apart, they all play many roles, not least the two indefatigable Laker girls [Gleanne Purcell-Brown and Sally Frith] – on the plague cart one minute, in the French army the next, fan dancers and Knights of Ni.
There are notable turns too from Simon Shorten as Sir Lancelot, the Frenchman, and Tim the Enchanter, making a hilariously apologetic big entrance, John Brannoch as Sir Bors and many more, Matthew Pennington as a priceless Prince Herbert and a Starkeyesque Historian, Norton James as Sir Galahad and Herbert’s gruff father, Daniel Cane as a gloriously gawky, moustachioed Sir Robin, and Marc Akinfolarin as a differently whiskered Mrs Galahad and Sir Bedevere.Bob Harms plays a straight bat as Arthur King, and is all the funnier for it; his Lady of the Lake is Avenue Q survivor Sarah Harlington, giving a superb vocal performance and lighting up the stage with her star personality.
The staging and the choreography (Ashley Nottingham) are inventive and constantly diverting: the foot of God, the Spam can tap dance, the brollies for Bright Side, the actors stepping out of character for All Alone, the spinning nun, Guinevere appearing through the mist in a little canoe with a big chandelier. It’s Stars not Jews this time, and there are fresh references to Harry Potter, Trump and Gandalf, as well as local name-checks for TOWIE and Darren Day.
There’s an orchestra pit for Carlton Edwards’ band, and the setting is picture-book pantomime, with a lovely little round castle, moving about like a chess piece. There’s even a sing-along finale, though the enthusiastic audience scarcely needed the words flown in … a fine end to a sharp, smart, scintillating production, guaranteed to help everyone to look on the bright side.
Runs until 13 May 2017 then tours| Image: Robert Day