Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Spamalot - joyous, professional and great fun (Ulster Operatic in Grand Opera House until 14 October)

There’s nothing amateur about Ulster Operatic’s production of Spamalot which opened last night in the Grand Opera House in Belfast. It’s a joyous affair, with a cast who are in good voice and capable of putting in the high energy performance that is required to keep Eric Idle’s thin plot on the move.

The first half is nearly perfect. This is out of season pantomime with big songs, a self awareness of the lack of seriousness of the show, a grand set and lots of opportunity for the ensemble to crowd onto the stage and inject colour into the musical numbers.

There are references aplenty to other material in the Python canon with an oversized can of Spam proudly carried across the stage, fish slapping (I mean, fisch schlapping), a pointing finger and a familiar foot as well as quick visual puns to amuse fans.

You don’t need to be a nerdy fan of Monty Python to enjoy the Spamalot musical. You don’t even need to have much more than an awareness of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. This is shallow entertainment at its best and it succeeds in entertaining with last night’s audience and even me – it’s difficult to make me laugh out loud at the best of times – roaring at the mayhem, tomfoolery and clever use of language on stage.

After the interval and whistling along to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” the original script wobbles as the motley crew of despairing knights on a quest search for a shrubbery and are then challenged to stage a musical. “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway”, a song about the need to have some Jews in your production if it is to succeed, feels very out of place in 2017 (and was replaced in the 2010 West End revival and UK tour).

“His Name is Lancelot” brings the oomph back up to the level necessary to steer the show comfortably towards its joyously reprise-heavy finale. Some (rude or rushed) patrons left their seats early thinking the performance was over and missed the final number. Don’t make that mistake.

It’s a male-heavy vehicle that showcases the vocal talents of the men gathered up by Ulster Operatic. Colin Boyd plays a chiselled King Arthur with a commanding voice that befits the role of monarch. His Patsy (Jordan Walsh) not only has comic timing and pulls great faces, but must be bruised given the constant brush offs and jostling he has to endure throughout the show. Good to see some familiar faces from BSPA popping up on stage too.

The Lady of the Lake has a glittery wardrobe and a sparkling voice. Ciara Mackey confidently throws in a bit of scat on top of gospel an big band, belting out musical numbers with glee and using big gestures to make her character’s presence felt on stage amongst the knights. As her character laments after the interval, it’s a shame she doesn’t spend more time on stage.

With a ten piece orchestra, the big band sound booms out from the orchestra pit and they seem to revel in the genre-busting musical score which often leaps around styles mid-song. “The Song That Goes Like This” with the Lade of the Lake and Sir Galahad (Ross David Chambers) is probably the pinnacle of the show’s music with the two singers battling the ever key-shifting orchestra led by Wilson Shields.

The cast numbers just shy of forty and it was not uncommon for thirty people to be on stage at once for a song and dance number like “I Am Not Dead Yet”. Whether cheerleading as the Laker Girls or dancing in the ensemble, Brooke Allen’s choreography tests out the cast and throws in a few more complicated moves (like tumbling over someone else’s bent back) where skill levels permit.

Director Neil Keery has allowed a handful of localisations to ground the script in local places, people and issues, and every one of these modifications garners laughs and applause.

Spamalot is kitsch, entertaining nonsense that’s performed professionally and a joy to watch. Ulster Operatic’s production runs in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 14 October. Grab your coconut shells (like I did back in 2007) and canter down to the theatre … you’ll not be disappointed.

No comments: