Spamalot: South Africa Review

Let me just start this off by answering two fundamental questions: Firstly -yes, I know this is not a movie, and this is a movie blog. Secondly – I am very biased towards Monty Python. I think those six men were some of the most intelligent people to ever live, and Monty Python’s TV show and movies should be declared historically significant. Okay, that I have that in the open, Spamalot.

Here in South Africa, we may have an overabundance of sport, but that comes at the cost of something equally culturally significant – theatre. In Johannesburg, we have only two major theatres, which both need to house the rotating repertoire of dance shows, pantomimes, revues and the occasional musical. We have been lucky enough to get some of the bigger musicals – The Lion King, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera. However, for some reason we also managed to get Spamalot. I don’t know why they thought that would be a good idea – commercially, who wants to see a silly little musical based on a film from nearly forty years ago? I don’t know why they made that decision, but I am just incredibly happy that they did, because Spamalot was supremely exciting and brilliant and unbelievably entertaining.

Who do we owe this wonderful little musical to? Perhaps the biggest culprit for its success is the original writers, composers and producers who put it together. Without them, it would not have even existed. However, we must also hand a lot of the praise to the South African production’s director, Simon James, who managed to take this beloved musical and, while still keeping it faithful to the international productions, tweaked it here and there, making bolder choices with casting and production design, making it similar to the Broadway or West End versions, but not identical, therefore not making it an inferior addition to the canon of international productions of Spamalot, but a valuable member of the family.

South African audiences should be used to the basic model of this show, with an annual staple here the pantomime. A funny, pseudo-offensive comedy with bright costumes, funny jokes and a very twisted take on popular culture, all being wrapped up with a wedding. However, Spamalot is much more than this description – it is very offbeat and weird, in the best sense of the word. It would be so easy for a production like this to have dozens upon dozens of castmembers in the ensemble to fill up the various background roles. But having a smaller cast has many benefits – almost all the actors play several roles, and thus are able to show off their range as actors – in this regard, Spamalot is the Holy Grail of shows for any actor who wants to show off their range – and also, having a smaller cast makes this very elaborate musical feel a little more intimate and familiar – we get to know these actors in all their various roles, and we grow an emotional connection to them.

Like I said above, Spamalot was an odd choice for a staging at the Johannesburg Theatre – it isn’t very well-known in the general public, and many people have some sort of disdain for Monty Python. However, it is incredibly staged, very faithful to the spirit of the Pythons and it is a shining example that sometimes, just sometimes, we get a pleasant surprise.

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