Spam — and it’s kosher too

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS & BOOKS -

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

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