Eric’s deeply silly burst of Monty Python foolery

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“Spamalot’s” King Arthur (Cramer Cain) surrounded by the ensemble. Photo by John McRae.

DIRECTOR Richard Carroll absolutely loves cabaret.

“Lots of what I do on stage comes from cabaret – I love that world,” he says as he chats about his coming production of “Spamalot”, which opens the Canberra Theatre Centre’s subscription season program for 2020.

That, of course, is the deeply silly musical “ripped off” by Python lyricist and writer Eric Idle from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, a show which makes mincemeat of the King Arthur legends.

Lady of the Lake (Josie Lane) and Sir Galahad (Blake Appelqvist). Photo by John McRae.

With a fair bit of pre-show foolery and even more during the play itself, “Spamalot” features chorus lines of knights on hobby-horses, King Arthur, his servant Patsy, Sir Robin, Prince Herbert, the homicidally brave Sir Lancelot, the dashingly handsome Sir Galahad, the strangely flatulent Sir Bedevere, a sequined Lady of the Lake and her Laker Girls, cows, rabbits and a very rude French soldier.

In the mayhem, with actors coming in and out at random, it’s almost guaranteed that at least one of the cast will land in your lap in Carroll’s version. 

“When I first started ‘Spamalot’, I suspected we’d be mainly playing to older audiences who remember ‘Monty Python’ the TV series and the movies, but they all bring their children and their grandchildren and the humour holds up,” Carroll says. 

“I’m in my 30s and I grew up watching ‘Python’. It’s irreverent and it depends on silly people ‘getting’ the show.”

As with his previous production here, “Calamity Jane”, staged at The Playhouse last August, “Spamalot” is produced by Carroll’s theatre and cabaret production company One Eyed Man Productions, and under the aegis of the Hayes Theatre, the tiny playhouse in Sydney which has become home to Australia’s most innovative productions of musicals. Another Hayes production, “HMS Pinafore”, will open at The Q, Queanbeyan, the night before.

“Spamalot” is a very different show from “Calamity Jane”, which was arguably a serious musical. 

“Here the cabaret style of theatre really suits the subject matter,” Carroll says.

“I had to make sure it’s got a bit of a BBC feeling, but that’s been easy, as I was working with a rich cast of just eight actors doing the entire Grail story while sharing all the main roles.”

Director Richard Carroll.

In restaging it for the tour, six of the eight actors remain the same as in the original, but in transferring out of the 111-seat Hayes to big arts centres on the Gold and Central coasts and here, he’s had to be inventive. 

Everywhere, he’s using the principle of “traverse staging”, where the audience is seated on two sides of the action, making the auditorium into “a playing field”, while also leaving room for designer Emma Vine’s deliberately fake painted backdrops.

Cameron Mitchell, who also did “Calamity Jane”, is the choreographer. Carroll’s favourite part is the big central tap number but, he notes, Mitchell also throws in a huge number of different dance genres.

For “Spamalot”, the whole score, played by piano star Michael Tyack, has been recorded onto a backing track, and that, with Vine’s backdrops, “should capture the Monty Python spirit of things”.

And fear not, while you might not recognise all the songs unless you’re a total Python tragic, the songs famous from the movies are there, including (pilfered from “Life of Brian”) the anthem, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

“Spamalot”, The Playhouse, February 26-March 1. Book at canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

 

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