first night


Lucy Knight joins King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail in this year's DULOG Gala production.

You have to hand it to DULOG. While other Durham Student Theatre companies sometimes struggle to fill even the comparatively small Assembly Rooms Theatre, I walked into the Gala Theatre for the opening night of Spamalot to find almost every seat in the stalls taken. Of course, you can argue that ‘people love musicals’, and yes, they do, but DULOG’s selling point is more than just the fact that they put on well-known musicals that leave audiences humming tunes as they exit the theatre. The fact of the matter is that bums were on seats last night because the owners of these bums could near-guarantee a highly polished and well-executed performance – and that is exactly what they got.

Monty Python’s Spamalot is a musical that takes the essence of the classic Arthurian parody Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and places it on the stage. It loses nothing of the film’s irreverent and random humour, instead complementing it with a hilarious array of songs – and the result is glorious silliness. Director Matthew Elliot-Ripley and Assistant Director Suzy Hawes have served up this silliness extremely skilfully and utterly fabulously, and they have clearly worked with a highly talented cast and production team to create a spectacle that felt completely at home on the professional stage of the Gala Theatre.

Much of the humour in this production is found in self-aware jokes about musical theatre itself – indeed, one of Arthur’s tasks in his quest to find the Holy Grail is to put on a Broadway musical. Whilst the comedy works because the show does not take itself too seriously, the production is a success precisely because the team involved clearly do. Serious effort has gone into obtaining and constructing a fantastic professional set, which created the perfect backdrop for Camelot. It also allowed actors to pop up in turrets and behind battlements, comically shouting down at the characters below. Likewise, the matter of costume has been taken very seriously, and Costume Designer Caroline Mosimann should be commended on dazzling the audience with an array of magnificent outfits to complement every moment of the show. Particular favourites of mine included the Lady of the Lake’s dress that cleverly transformed into a wedding gown, and a certain pair of sequinned hot pants, which were, quite simply, unforgettable.

Special mention must of course go to the Musical Directors Becky Brookes and Alex Mackinder, who, teamed with a talented orchestra, brought an incredibly diverse score to life. The orchestra did occasionally overpower the cast members, particularly when the un-microphoned ensemble were singing. This was more of a technical issue than a fault of the orchestra themselves, but it was a shame, as it detracted from what could have been a near-impeccable musical performance. There were, unfortunately, several noticeable problems with the sound during the performance, which were forgivable with this being the first night of a production in a theatre that DST’s technical teams are not as accustomed to working with. Other aspects of the technical side of things were executed flawlessly, and Technical Director Michael Nower, alongside his team, did an excellent job in allowing this large-scale production to run seamlessly. I have no doubt that the sound issues will be resolved before the next performance, which will leave the production largely without fault.

Charlie Keable, as the protagonist King Arthur, competently led us through the musical’s hare-brained plot, but this was not really a production for stand-out performances, as every single member of the cast added something to the ‘wow factor’ of the musical. In fact, the energy oozing from each and every member of the ensemble meant that, when the stage was full, I barely knew where to look. Sophie Allen and Laura Doherty have created routine upon routine of wonderfully fitting choreography, and the accomplished dance ensemble did their work justice, not only dancing technically well, but also throwing themselves into the many characters required of them.

As someone with a penchant for all things fabulous, I naturally enjoyed Sir Lancelot’s storyline, in which he is tasked with rescuing Prince Herbert, portrayed by the resplendent Will Emery. Once Lancelot (Arthur Lewis) has got past Herbert’s dictating father – Asher Glinsman excels himself here  the rescue culminates in perhaps the crème de la crème of Allen and Doherty’s choreography: a marvellous tribute to disco in a vibrant rendition of ‘His Name is Lancelot’. Both Emery and Lewis are gorgeously camp here, and Emery in particular proved himself to be a dynamic performer.

The only performances which I felt were not fully realised were those of the King Arthur’s Knights. All of them acted well, but I felt that Elliot-Ripley could have exaggerated their characterisation even more in order to match up to the extremely high energy levels of the rest of the production. For example, I thought Alex Bromwich, as Sir Robin, in particular could have gone to town even more with his portrayal of the ‘cowardly one’ – more consistently high levels of characterisation from these central characters would have lifted the entire performance even more. Sophie Forster came the closest to achieving this level of characterisation, causing me to laugh out loud on several occasions at her lovable but dim-witted portrayal of Sir Bedevere.

Overall, it has to be said that DULOG’s production of Spamalot is a resounding success, and its pure ridiculousness promises to both entertain and impress. I certainly know that I shall be annoying everyone in my vicinity for at least a week with a constant rendition of ‘The Song That Goes Like This’, and if that’s not the sign of a good musical, then I don’t know what is. Sadly, I do not have the powerfully angelic voice of Rosie Weston, who plays the Lady of the Lake, so it is probably best that you avoid spending time with me, and instead buy a ticket to go and hear her version.

25 January 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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