By Ben Clark
‘Glitzy and campy.’ These are the words Matt Elliot-Ripley, director of DULOG’s Spamalot, used to describe his take on the much-loved Monty Python-based hit musical. From what I saw when I popped in to watch DULOG rehearsing one of the show’s funniest numbers, in which a big, burly Lancelot (Arthur Lewis) comes out of the closet in spectacular style, ‘glitzy and campy’ sounds about right.
Taking place in the Gala Theatre, which is the biggest of its kind in Durham, DULOG’s production is certainly set to be on a grander scale than most. This is reflected in the sheer number of people involved: one member of the cast put the figure at around 80. The set, likewise, is of monstrous proportions, featuring a castle with a portcullis and two towers. As Elliot-Ripley puts it: ‘If you don’t have a set that kind of makes you go “Wow!”, it’s always going to feel a bit too small for the space it’s in.’
Props feature a giant hand of God and, according to Elliot-Ripley, who can hardly contain himself at the prospect, an 11-foot tall wooden rabbit. This is just a small part of the show’s wackiness. Featuring many of Monty Python’s best characters, such as the Knights who say Ni and the Black Knight (‘Tis but a scratch), fans of the original films will not be disappointed. Elliot-Ripley notes that ‘Monty Python were well-known for being really silly, and absurd, and sometimes weird in a way that was deliberately alienating’ – a feeling that the cast and production team are keen to bring out in this show. Although ‘deliberately alienating’ might sound a bit off-putting, I think a lot of the show’s humour does come from a sort of intentional obscurity, akin to that of more modern TV shows such as The Mighty Boosh. When done well, it will make you shake your head and smile at its sheer preposterousness.
Genevieve Burns, the show’s producer, summed up the show’s quirky humour: ‘It’s like… how many stupid things can we do.’ At one point the cast sing a song called You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (‘You won’t succeed on Broadway / If you don’t have any Jews’). Although somewhat contentious, the song is intended as an homage to Jewish contributions to musical theatre. Sophie Allen, DULOG’s chief choreographer, assured me that they liaised with JSoc and a local company who had recently put on Spamalot before making the decision to include the song, which features iconic choreography from the 2014 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It’s good to see DULOG aren’t letting Spamalot’s irreverent humour go too far.
Before leaving Elvet Riverside, where DULOG were rehearsing, I had a quick word with Will Emery, who plays Prince Herbert. His take on the show was this: ‘It’s incredibly funny. Monty Python is part of British heritage and it’s been so influential in comedy.’
Monty Python is indeed very British: it’s quaint, and silly, and funny in its own quirky sort of way. Without having seen Spamalot before, I can honestly say that I’m intrigued to see how the archetypally British comedy of Cleese and co. translates onto the stage. Having met the cast and production team, I have very high hopes for this production.
‘Spamalot’ will be performed at the Gala Theatre Durham from Tuesday, 24th of January to Saturday 28th January at 19:30 (with two matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday). Book your tickets here.