Enjoyable cavalcade of nonsense

Luke Wessels as the camp, scene-stealing Sir Robin, with minstrels, in a standout moment from Northcliff High School’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, based on the hit 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The stage musical is at Durban’s Playhouse Drama theatre until Sunday (July 9). It’s great fun.

Stage: Monty Python’s Spamalot – Playhouse Drama theatre, Durban

EVEN before the action unfolds in this production of the hit Broadway and West End parody of the Arthurian legend, the audience knows much fun will ensue – a voiceover informs the audience, after a message about cellphones that ring “willy-nilly”, that heavily armed knights are on stage that may “drag you on stage and impale you”.

And what great fun there is to be had in this wildly nonsensical musical which, created by the looney Monty Python team and inspired by their 1975 movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was once planned as a production by Durban’s KickstArt theatre company until it was announced that another professional production was being produced in Gauteng around about the same time.

The production running at Durban’s Playhouse until Sunday is by Johannesburg’s Northcliff High School pupils, under the direction of Nick Jourdan. He has been directing the school’s annual musical for some three decades, and for the past 19 years, the annual show has been brought to Durban’s Playhouse – to allow the cast and crew experience in a professional theatre and on tour. Kudos for that alone!

Notwithstanding Jourdan admitting to challenges – including busy staging, many costumes and props, and offbeat humour (“shit is changed to “poo” in the show’s most well-known song,  Always Look on the Bright Side of Life) – he and his young team have produced one of the school’s finest touring shows in a while.

Ross Anderson as the vain Sir Galahad and Philippa Thompson as The Lady of the Lake in The Song That Goes Like This number from Spamalot.

Yes, there are occasional moments of slight wobble here and there, as well as some small inconsistencies in the standard of vocal, acting and dance talent, but all this is easily forgiven in a school show.  That all said, this production achieves a high standard indeed for a production by teen amateurs, who perform with zeal and enjoyment.

First staged in 2005 on Broadway, when it was directed by Mike Nichols, earned 14 Tony Award nominations and collected three statuettes, including one for Best Musical, Spamalot is not a carbon copy of the film.

The show retains many of the movie’s wonderful lines and scenarios – yes, the Knights who say “Ni”, and their need for a shrubbery, are here, as well as the rude, cow-throwing Frenchmen (very well portrayed) and the ferocious rabbit.

However, the stage show goes off on some wild tangents – including not only a quest for the Holy Grail, as Arthur has been ordered to do by He Above the Clouds, but also a search for Jews for a Broadway musical. There is, of course, also lots of song…  and dance that includes some deft  tapping variations from many in the young cast.

It may be unfair to single out performances, but promising Grade 10 pupil Matthew Vey makes a mature and amusing Arthur, while Grade 9 pupil Declan McCullough is his perfect foil as burdened servant Patsy, who uses coconuts to make horse-trotting noises while his master mimes the horseriding.  It’s a  hilarious gag from the film retained, and milked constantly, for the show.

Grade 11 pupil Luke Wessels also deserves mention. He is a delight as the camp and animated Sir Robin, virtually stealing the show with his fun and flashy You Won’t Succeed on Broadway solo spot.

A back-slap, too, for young Grade 8 pupil Ntsika Kunene as Not Dead Fred in a very amusing early part of the musical and, particularly in the vocal department, Gabriel Solomons as the effeminate Prince Herbert, Ross Anderson as the vain Sir Galahad, Shannon Howard as Lady of the Grail, Tao Blignaut as Lady of Camelot, Tiana de Abreu as an impatient Guinevere and Philippa Thompson as The Lady of the Lake.

Filled with loopy elements including a giant wooden rabbit on wheels, fish-slapping Finns, a tip of the hat to Phantom of the Opera in the hilarious The Song That Goes Like This, and assorted minstrels, kooky knights, dancing maidens and a delicious French sequence that features a mime, legionnaires and can-can dancers, Spamalot will make you smile a lot.

This ridiculous cavalcade of nonsense, as it is billed, has final performances at the Playhouse at 7.30pm today, Thursday and Friday (July 5, 6 and 7), at 2pm and 7.30pm on Saturday (July 8) and 3pm on Sunday (July 9).

Tickets, available at Computicket outlets, cost R70 each for today’s performance (July 5) and R100 each for all remaining performances. Lend support and have a ball doing so!

Shannon Howard sings the rousing Find Your Grail  with the cast of the Northcliff High School production of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

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