Leigh Operatic and Dramatic Society at the Palace Theatre Westcliff
A very British blend of Python and panto, it's curious to think that it was born on Broadway.
The show certainly seems very much at home in the lovely old Palace Theatre; good to see one of the stage boxes used briefly.
LODS, directed by Sallie Warrington, give it their all, playing up the silliness, the high camp and the parody in a gloriously enjoyable couple of hours of escapist laughter.
It helps to have a company of consummate musical theatre performers, of course.
The excellent programme lists thirty named characters, so please forgive only a passing mention for Nathan Gray's Nun, Bradley Gull's Monk and Mick Felgate's Sir Not Appearing. Surely some mistake – he sneaks on for at least one other cheeky cameo.
Intellectual high point of the show is Anthony Bristoe's bow-tied historian right at the start; he also gets to play Brother Maynard and a lovely Mrs Galahad, mother to Stuart Woolner's superb knight, “dashingly handsome” with his Cavalier curls. A somewhat less convincing wig for Peter Brown's Sir Robin, clutching his rubber chicken; a great comedy performance, with a chance to relive his Man in Chair triumph for the Broadway number. The fleeting scenery gag is a particular delight.
His unlikely pair is Lewis Sheldrake's Sir Lancelot, transformed for the finale, outed in a disco number, ready for his “still controversial” wedding to David Shipman's Prince Herbert.
Paul Ward makes a perfect Patsy, the Baldricky side-kick to the King of the Britons. His coconuts carefully placed, always in the moment, especially in the Act Two All Alone number.
“Overacting like hell” as the Camelot couple, Neil Lands' flamboyant Arthur King – I never saw Simon Russell Beale in the role, but I imagine it was something after this style – and Helen Sharpe's unforgettable Lady of the Lake, wringing every last drop of gold top out of her big numbers: the Grail Song, the meta-theatrical front-cloth lament and of course The Song That Goes Like This.
The music – and the essential slapstick sound effects – are excellently done; the MD is Rachael Plunkett, with Clare Penfold waving the stick in the Palace pit. Amateur productions have the edge in the chorus numbers, fielding a stage-full of song-and-dance people: the lovely, hard-working Laker Girls, plus assorted peasants, nobles and Knights of Ni.
The scenery, and the shrubbery, are [deliberately?] uninspired – the code set in stone, for instance – and I find the camel gag works best with a gap, and the E at the end. But the Wooden Rabbit is impressive, and the Black Knight the best I've seen. And the show has so many clever, delightful touches: the entry of the Knights stage left, Fantine amongst the French extras, the slapping of the fish echoed by the head-banging Friars ...
production photograph: Gareth Poxon