For those not yet in the know, Spamalot is a modern musical (lovingly) ripped off from the motion picture, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It includes all of the best traits of the classic Monty Python slapstick humour such as over-the-top sword fights, and dancing half-dead citizens, as well as the many joys a broadway musical has to offer. The Wellington Footlights Society does well in combining these two genres, for which I commend director Ruby Kemp. Her passion for the forms not only showed in her enthusiastic laughs resonating through the audience, but in the confidence and ease her actors had throughout the show, even at its most challenging scenes and scene changes. This is never an easy thing for a cast to achieve, let alone one performing their opening night show.
The cast seemed expertly assembled, with every main character ideal in their roles, and some great cameos from ensemble members as well. A few highlights from the ensemble included Will Collin as Brother Maynard, whose comic timing never missed a beat, and Dom Taffs as Herbert, whose charm never failed to win the audience’s heart. The real hero of the night was, of course, King Arthur, skilfully played by the charismatic David Young. His command of the role was superbly nailed in its endearing earnesty, which was only further aided by his lovely singing voice. Ellie Stewart was another to shine. Lady of the Lake is a challenging role; the actress tasked with this character must be everything from a diva to a lounge singer and comedienne all in one, and Stewart managed to nail all three.
I’m always impressed, delighted, and slightly apprehensive whenever amateur musical theatre productions use a live band or orchestra. Musical Director, Michael Stebbings was not only able to assemble a 12 piece orchestra (which is no mean feat), but also assemble a very capable 12 piece orchestra able to overcome the sound limitations of having actors and singers with no mics. In the past, I have found this troubling in the Whitireia space, but it did not pose an issue for this performance.
Duncan Garrett did well in his Set Design and Construction. A large, multi-leveled castle decorates the stage for most of the scene, allowing for smooth scene changes except where purposeful (shout out to the broom sweepers!), the show maintained a good pace. Choreographer and ensemble member India Loveday both performed and created exciting dance numbers the made good use of the very wide Whitireia stage. The ‘Run Away’ dancing chorus line of French ladies and men, chasing the Knights of the Round Table was a favourite, with lots of kick-lines and kicking of behinds keeping the audience well entertained.
Some improvements Footlights could consider for future productions may include better stage amplification. Whether this be individual mic packs, or directional mics down stage, amplification may enhance the connection between the band and stage, as well as easing strain in the audience’s hearing and performers voices. During this show, performers needed to remain close to the audience to comfortably project their lines. This meant some parts of the performances were visually obscured for those in the third row and back. Furthermore, it felt a shame to hide the band away. While I understand many of these points may be limitations of space and/or budget, if a way was found, it would be exciting to have the band as a part of the on-stage visuals in some way.
I also found the choreography had best uniformity when all performers were capable of achieving the moves with confidence. The opening ‘Fisch Schlapping Dance' being a good example of this. This and others like it provided the best overall visual, despite some dances being more technically impressive. However, these are all minor points in context of the entire evening.
The real disappointment of the night came with sight of empty seats. Though, to Footlights’ credit, the crowd was probably two-thirds full, the show deserved a sell-out audience. Every element of this production has had plenty of love and attention put into it, which the audience gets the true benefit of. Come along, Wellington! Get your butt’s down to Whitireia Theatre, and see this wonderful, hilarious production that you do not want to miss out on.
Monty Python’s Spamalot the Music performs until June 3rd at Whitireia Theatre, 25 Vivian Street, Wellington. Tickets available on the door and Spamalot Seat Advisor.