Spam — and it’s kosher too
Spamalot Palace Theatre, W1
Returning to Eric Idle’s Monty Python-inspired, hilarious musical was always likely to be a delight, with Simon Russell Beale taking on the role of King Arthur. Whereas Tim Curry was wonderful in a plummy kind of way, Russell Beale brings his own brand of gentle exasperation to the show’s chaos.
Mike Nichols’s production betrays its Broadway origins with the number You Won’t Succeed — which is to say that you won’t succeed in showbiz unless you have Jews. The chorus goes all Chasidic and dance the hora until the biggest Star of David in Christendom descends.
Bar one or two solitary and possibly Jewish guffaws in the audience, the song’s message, which is much truer for Broadway than it is for the West End, is greeted by something like mass incomprehension. Here it comes across as an eccentric rule of thumb. But if anyone can get away with eccentricity, Monty Python can. And they do. Highly recommended. (020 7434 0909) The Taming of the Shrew Twelfth Night The Old Vic, SE1
In Shakespeare’s time, male actors played female characters. But these days an ensemble made up entirely of one gender can have a disorientating effect. In Twelfth Night, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s Olivia is, appropriately enough, all camp vanity. But not even Shakespeare’s language prevents you from being distracted by the sight of a bloke in a dress.
However, take in both productions of this double offering and you get a lesson in acting, not language.
For The Taming of the Shrew, BruceLockhart plays Petruchio — who tames the rebellious Kate (Simon Garfield) with serial domestic abuse — as a leather-jacketed Fonz. But more important than demonstrating the diversity of a talented cast, Director Ed Hall’s hugely entertaining Shrew and, at times, utterly beautiful Twelfth Night are proof that what matters most is vision.
In Twelfth Night, the inventiveness of the garden scene, evocatively accompanied by the sound of bird song, flapping wings and moving statues, during which Bob Barrett’s big ga- lumph of a Malvolio deciphers his Mistress’s forged letter, will remain a long time in the mind.
And although Hall tops and tales his Shrew with an earlier version of the work, emphasising the play as a parable, the effect is confusing rather than illuminating. It is though, as good a stab at nullifying the play’s misogynism as I’ve seen. Who cares about gender? It is ideas that count. (0870 060 6628)
The numbers performed in Spamalot range from medieval to Chasidic — much to the confusion of the audience