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posted/updated: 11 Jul 2019 -
Book and Lyrics by ERIC IDLE. Music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
society/company: Shaftesbury Arts Centre (directory)
performance date: 10 Jul 2019
venue: Shaftesbury
reviewer/s: Cormac Richards (Sardines review)

Since it’s release to amateur theatre companies, Spamalot has been seen all over the UK and is fast becoming a staple of the am-dram repertoire. It provides great scope for fun for performers, designers and audience alike. It has an iconic song and is likely to be good box office. But beware, the show is not as easy to pull off as it might first appear; it needs considerable pace, it must never be subtle and it needs everyone to throw themselves into it.

The Music and Drama Group at the Shaftesbury Arts Centre have largely been successful, though some reservations remain.
The theatre is blessed with very comfortable seats and an auditorium which is long and narrow – the small stage requires directors to use their cast carefully to avoid it getting too cluttered. The 8-piece band for this production, under the direction of Tim Trenchard, sits to one side in front of the stage.

The static set more than fulfils all the needs for the show with ramparts and towers and steps to different levels. In fact, all the scenic work – including a wonderful pair of God’s feet – is of very good quality. The many costumes required for the show are also well put together – the hard work of Sandra Trim and her team pays off.

The director needs to ensure the air of lunacy pervades the whole show so it can be transmitted to the audience. This is not an easy style to achieve and while some of the performers struggle a little, there are some who appear to be entirely at home in the genre.
Jerome Swan takes on a number of roles – and accents – and is entirely suited to this kind of caper – his French Taunter is exquisitely idiotic. Phil Elsworth is impressive in body, beard and voice as King Arthur, but I would love to see a little more by-play between him and Patsy – Bryan Farrell has a splendidly mobile face, and a great backpack, though maybe not as tuneful as required.

Peter Morris is ideally suited to this show, tall and wide-eyed – his Sir Bedevere and Black Knight are pitch-perfect. Charles Dillon looks like he is about to commit mass murder as Lancelot which provides a wonderful counterpoint to his later revelations, though I think a lot of comedy is lost by having a female Herbert – no fault of the actress, but it doesn’t work.

Anne-Louise Richards may not have a belter of a voice, but she is more than capable of putting over the big numbers as Lady of the Lake. There is also good work from Chris Bailward, channelling Terry Jones as Mrs Galahad among several roles.

I mentioned the band earlier, who were fine in general, but too often they overwhelmed the actors voices. The book and lyrics for the show are packed with funny lines and if you cannot hear them you are losing so much comedy – the opening speech from the Historian and the wonderful ‘Brave Sir Robin’ are major victims of this which, I hope, can be adjusted during the run.

The lighting needs to be brash and is, but it is also very patchy and actors are often in half light and shadows; cues need to be a bit quicker too.

One of my big bugbears is seeing stage crew in full view – it is often necessary, but the impact can be lessened by popping them in an appropriate costume. There wasn’t much need for them here as the cast could probably have carried out such furniture and prop moves as were necessary – they got rather tangled with the cast at one point. The set piece of the Black Knight was really successful until we could see his legs being sorted out by a stagehand – a pity.

I just got the impression of some first-night nerves – throw yourself headlong into the show, let go. Camp it up, be ludicrous – the performers who do, will come out on top!

In general though, this is a well performed show with funny moments and a well drilled cast and chorus – the dancers particularly so – a tap dance number to boot. Credit to Director Steve Pocock and Choreographers Barbara Arnold and Sophie Lester. Pace is a little lacking, but will, I am sure, pick up during the course of the run – the show will thrive as a result.

An admirable production which was well received by an enthusiastic first night audience.

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