Spamalot | Review
The Grand Opera House, Belfast • Runs until 14 October ’17
By Conor O’Neill
The year is 962 AD, the place Briton, Anglo-Saxons to the west, Gauls to the east and the less said about the pestilence from the north-east and Scotland the better. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the Ulster Operatic Company before and this is an interesting baptism.
We are, of course, talking about Monty Python’s irreverent take on the Arthurian legend The Knights of the Round Table, led of course by King Arthur himself. I loved the film The Holy Grail, though I have never watched Spamalot either on TV screen or stage. ‘Lovingly ripped off’ states the cover of the souvenir program and lovingly presented and performed it is too. A posh English narrator/historian sets the scene of a gorgeous country, prim proper and all is well. Twenty-two or more, I couldn’t count accurately as they were shifting position so quickly and so often; dancers career around the stage and Finnish flags and costumes whizz by to the knee-rocking notes of the dozen musicians in the pit below. Historian/narrator (Tony Young) brings a halt to such joviality as he clears his throat and states, “I said England, not Finland!”
The weather and mood change, mud and corpses litter the land as the clopping of hooves sound. Enter King Arthur (Colin Boyd) and his squire and lackey Patsy (Jordan Walsh) who is tested on his skills with the coconut as Arthur’s demands of ‘trot’, ‘canter’, East – the sound of a Loyalist pipes and drums, West – Irish trad’? My ears prick, is the Ulster Operatic Company bringing Ulster to Python? On the search for men to help him unite the divided country, Arthur picks up Lancelot, who likes to dance a lot. Lancelot turns his back on his job of making nine pence per plague corpse, including Not Dead Fred (Conor Johnston) and seeks blood and guts on the battlefield. Socialist extremist and professional shit-shoveler, Dennis the ‘Doubting Thomas’, “Dennis” (are you following?) needs the Lady of the Lake’s appearance to convince him Arthur really is King. Dublin born, Ciara Mackey’s, Lady of the Lake, and her unfathomable lung capacity and vocal gymnastics will stay with anyone with ears for many a moon.
With Lancelot and Galahad in tow, King Arthur soon picks up Brave Sir Robin (Brian Trainor) and Sir Bedever (Paddy McGennity), the brains – I use the term loosely – of the operation and are spoken to by God herself (Olivia Nash, of Give My Head Peace familiarity) instructing them to find The Holy Grail. A short stop off in Camelot, “What goes on in Camelot, stays in Camelot!” ensues and that’s when the true madness really begins. Cheerleaders, aka the Laker Girls, a camp man in line green hot-pants and vest along with the chorus sing us forward.
With a Belfast cab driver’s approach to the most direct route, the gang find themselves in France via China, Egypt, and Hawaii. Insulted by the French, operation Trojan Rabbit banjaxed, the gang dispersed. ‘Run Away’ is sung by The Lady of Lake and ensemble taking us neatly to the interval.
Patsy kicks off with Life of Brian’s ‘Always Look on the Brightside to Life’. With a Broadway hit demanded by God, and after a series of mini-adventures which sees Lancelot answering a call for rescue from a damsel in distress, Robin runs away, The Knights who say Ni – demand a shrubbery, The Lady of the Lake laments her absence from the stage, Patsy has a dark secret on his mother’s side and three marriage proposals are made and two carried out. All these little side-tracks allow each main cast member to clear their lungs as the songs keep coming.
Thankfully, the Northern Irish twists keep coming; expect a lot of local names to be either mentioned, or characters to appear on stage. Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and others bring a current feel to this classic, which has to date, brought $150m to box offices all over the globe. Three Tony Awards are a testament to this musical’s popularity both with critics and the public. Many think of musicals as all glitter and little content and while glitter is here in abundance, a squeeze of social commentary and a mirror held to our society’s face give Spamalot more depth than I initially anticipated. There’s more than just hi-jinks and surrealism on offer here.
The choreography of Brooke Allen is excellent, musical director Wilson Shield and his orchestra cannot be faulted; director Neil Kerry runs a tight ship with his eye always on the audience’s satisfaction. Sometimes confusing? Yes. Funny? There’s at least a giggle at every turn, roars of laughter – when cheeky little puns are realised as the physical humour plays out. Technically it’s astounding.”
600 plus guests stood for a good three minutes tonight. Hopefully, numbers increase as word of mouth gets around.
Spamalot runs until Saturday, October 14 for booking details visit www.goh.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 241919