The silliest of season shenanigans

Spamalot (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

November 23 – January 18

Based on the 1975 classic film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, a cheeky Camelot spoof on the legendary King Arthur’s quest to find the elusive treasure, the musical “Spamalot” is a pretty silly show, just look to its “I fart in your general direction” sort of dialogue. But silly is not as easy to do as it might seem. Thankfully, “Spamalot” sees Brisbane Arts Theatre giving audiences nothing but an immensely fun and highly entertaining show of satire, slapstick and irony, as memorable (and quoteable) as its source material.

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The story (book by Monty Python’s Eric Idle) is pretty irrelevant to proceedings, but goes as follows… In the 10th century A.D., the self-assured King Arthur (Alexander Thanasoulis) travels England with his servant, Patsy (Oliver Catton) seeking men to join the Knights of the Round Table. Members of the fellowship ultimately come to include Sir Robin (Lachlan Morris), Sir Galahad (Ben Kasper), Sir Lancelot (Damien Campagnolo) and Sir Bedevere (Liam Hartley). Arthur’s belief in his destiny as ruler of England has come from having been given the Excalibur sword, Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake (Laura Fois). Still, when he receives a message from God tasking him with finding the Holy Grail, he embraces the mission and its ensuing extensive search by him and his knights. As any Monty Python fan knows, a whole lot of nonsense follows, including a host of encounters with eccentric characters, taunting of the English knights by French soldiers, and an additional challenge set by The Knights who Say Ni, who will only allow Arthur to pass through their forest if he puts on a musical (‘but not an Andrew Lloyd Webber’).

It’s all quite ludicrous, but in Brisbane Arts Theatre’s hands, it actually makes sense. The lead performers are all excellent. Thanasoulis brings an appealing, assured stage presence to the role of King Arthur, the very versatile Matthew Nisbet is incredibly funny in all of his multiple character roles and, as ‘Brave’ Sir Robin, Morris is wonderfully animated and expressive, both and dialogue and songs like Act Two’s ‘You Won’t Succeed On Broadway’. Fois is vocally very strong as Arthur’s ‘watery tart’ diva love interest, especially in ‘The Song that Goes Like This’ parody of generic love songs that ‘start off soft and low and end up with a kiss’. Most notably, though, in every instance it is clear that everyone is enjoying themselves and the fun is infectious.

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“Spamalot” may be shorter than usual musical fare, however, this is barely noticeable, packed full of laughs as the highly irreverent parody is in its execution of that quirkily individual Python-esque style of humour. There is a lot from which to draw laughs, with absurd situations and nonsensical expressions peppered with puns, dad jokes and ridiculous rhymes.

The music is entertaining, even if the numbers are not that memorable, however, the musical numbers, in particular, make good use of the small stage space. Television screen projections add interest and it is wonderful to see them used to enable full line of sight access to all audience members. And the production does well in its realisation of key sketch moments such as the Black Knight’s ‘tis but a scratch flesh wounds and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

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When it comes to putting the silly in this end-of-year season, “Spamalot” is a perfect show to have you smiling the whole way through to its ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ final singalong. It makes good use of the comedic talents of the cast who also showcase strong harmonies across the score’s range of musical styles. Its exuberant shenanigans certainly cannot be taken too seriously, however, this is still a show only really suited to those who have familiarity with the comedy troupe’s idiosyncratic style, lest they just find the whole thing bafflingly bonkers.

Spamalot silliness

Spamalot (Harvest Rain Theatre Company)

QPAC, Concert Hall

October 2 – 5

Finnish fish schlapping, migrating coconut clapping, overconfident Black Knights and crazy killer rabbits; if you don’t recognise British comedy troupe’s Monty Python’s iconic scenes and lines, then “Spamalot” may seem like the most nonsensical of theatre experiences. If, however, you know the Knights who say Ni, then this Camelot spoof is the show for you.

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The award-winning musical that brings the cult 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to the stage, tells the tale of Arthur, King of the Britains’ jaunty yet problematic quest to put together his Knights of the Round Table and follow God’s order to find the hidden chalice, The Holy Grail. Arthur (Jon English) is taunted and challenged by his disrespecting subjects, including ‘old woman’ Dennis, which is perhaps understandable given that he arrives riding an invisible horse with faithful servant Patsy (Simon Gallaher) providing the casual canter clip-clop sounds with coconut shells.

Together again, 30 years after the pair official opened QPAC in “The Pirates of Penzance”, English and Gallaher engage in playful banter, clearly having as good a time as the audience. (How unfortunate it was, however, to have microphone issues distracting from the opening night performance.) However, the greatest humour comes from Frank Woodley, who puts his own spin on the ‘totes French’ Taunting Frenchmen, improvising some extra insults by the character made famous by John Cleese.

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The show’s standout is legendary soprano Julie Anthony brought out of retirement to play ‘watery tart’, The Lady of the Lake, who Arthur repeatedly encounters along the way to finding the shiny metal cup. In full voice, she does not falter in her delivery, garnering audience applause virtually every time she takes to the stage and, in her outrageously diva-esque standout numbers such as ‘The Song that Goes Like This’, a wonderful parody of the sentimental Broadway ballad, she delivers much hilarity. And she gives a mighty memorable Miley Cyrus impression too.

‘You do not stand a chance if you don’t have any stars’, Woodley sings as Sir Robin in ‘You won’t succeed in Showbiz. And “Spamalot” has no shortage. I am yet to be anything less than impressed by Dash Kruck or Chris Kellett’s stage efforts and this show is no exception. As the big strong and hot, gay Sir Lancelot (who likes to dance-a-lot), Kellett shows self-effacing versatility. And Kruck is not only of solid voice, but entirely engaging as he camps it up as delicate, fragile and very pale, musically-inclined Prince Herbert, imprisoned in a tall tower. The unlikely lovebirds’ scenes together are absolutely hilarious and one of Act Two’s highlights.

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Much of the joy of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” lies in its imaginative use of its low-budget locations and homemade props, and, in its homage, “Spamalot” more than does justice to this style of sketch comedy, not just through its ‘very expensive forest’ but its witty word plays, sight gags and historic anachronisms. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, some good-humoured ribbing (of ‘tight bastard producers’) and a peppering of political references, but it is all with a resplendently silly sense of fun for all ages.

Like a group hug of happiness, “Spamalot” will leave you sore from smiling as you hum ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ all the way home. High-end theatre, this is not, but wildly entertaining? Judging by the thunderous audience applause, absolutely.

From sublime to silly

After 18 days of social media clues, Harvest Rain Theatre revealed its 2014 season in an all-singing, all-dancing launch at QPAC’s Playhouse. For the company’s 2014 season, its first as a fully professional company, Harvest Rain will be continuing what it does best, presenting a trio of big musicals featuring an impressive list of stars. The season features a golden oldie, a modern Broadway classic and a Broadway hit musical, ranging from the sublime to the silly, but all with promise of maximum entertainment.

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Harvest Rain is fast developing a reputation for effectively reviving and recreating the classics. The company’s 2013 “Oklahoma” proves that classic musicals can still be popular and the company aims to recapture the magic when it reintroduces the delightful musical “Guys and Dolls” to a modern audience in March.  After their acclaimed performances in “Oklahoma, Ian Stenlake and Angela Harding will reteam in the show and the audience was reminded of their vocal talents, including through Stenlake’s dynamic performance of “Luck be a Lady”. The really big news, however, was that the company has recently signed Gold Logie winner Daryl Somers to play Nicely Nicely Johnson, a role made famous on the Australian stage by the late Ricky May. And Somers was in full schick mode as he hammed it up about his preparation for the weighty role.

Everyone is invited to the Jellicle Ball when the company presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” in an arena spectacular style show at the Brisbane Convention Centre for five performances in May. With over 500 performers taking to the stage, “Cats” promises to be a glorious production of immense scale. Indeed, it will be the largest production of “Cats” ever staged in the southern hemisphere. While the whimsical cats shone both on stage and as they slinked about the post-launch function, the highlight was undoubtedly headliner Marina Prior’s goosebumpy performance of “Memory”, the show’s haunting anthem.

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Audiences are guaranteed a good time when Simon Gallaher and Jon English reunite thirty years after their “Pirates of Penzance” romp for the Tony Award winning Monty Python musical “Spamalot”, based on the cult 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. After rousing renditions of “Knights of the Round Table” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, Lady of the Lake Julie Anthony revealed how she was coaxed out of retirement for the show, which will be staged in QPAC’s Concert Hall in October.

Harvest Rain’s motto for 2014 is ‘the stars shine bright in Brisbane’ and if the 2014 launch is any indication, this is, indeed, the case, as the company adds to the list of the acclaimed artists have trodden the boards in a Harvest Rain show over the past three decades.

*A review of this launch also appears on the XS Entertainment website.