MTAS Member Ceri Davies (@cez1984) reviews The Sword And The Dope for @MTAS_Official
After reading the reviews about previous productions of Sword And The Dope I was really excited about seeing it. However this latest incarnation fails to hit the right notes (quite literally at points).
With referendums and snap elections dominating the country’s political landscape, austerity measures and Brexit looming, this fourth run of the show has decided to go ‘political-ish’, telling the story of King Arthur with a modern day political twist. Written by, directed by and starring Michael Head, the story is set a long long time ago, which you learn during the painfully long first song. Yes, the fact that it’s long is kind of the point, with the cast acting tired and fed up by the end of it, the problem is the audience were bored long before the cast feigned boredom. The show tells the tale of the Strong and Stable King Arthur (May) who is under threat, after a snap invasion, from the left wing Black Knight (Corbyn) and evil Sir Backstabber (Farron-esque traits). The only people who can help are the drunk wizard Merlot, and a bloke named Casey, who prefers singing to being a brave knight.
The LAPA Production Company started off as a place to give children from deprived areas a chance to enjoy performing arts and learn stage craft. Unfortunately this show feels exactly that, a children’s production without any money behind it (but with the addition of swearing and alcohol). The set was just a badly painted curtain and a few boxes, and the costumes looked like their mums had made them. I know the point of the show is it’s making a bit of a joke of itself, but so was Spamalot, yet that still managed to look good. The script felt a bit dated with very predictable jokes and obvious shoe horning in of the political stuff to their existing show, sometimes into places where it didn’t really fit. It didn’t help that the delivery wasn’t very slick, giving it that feeling of a school production where there’s a slight pause between each characters dialogue and you’re not quite sure if the kid is going to remember their line. The idea of giving old characters (King Arthur et al) recognisable traits of current political figures however was very clever and did work well, although references to modern day celebrities such as Katie Price and David Beckham being around in the Dark Ages just confused things.
The Choreography looked like the kind of dance I did in my school productions in the 80s and 90s with no energy nor necessarily in time. Some compensation has to be made for the fact it’s a tiny stage and if they’d all gone full out someone may have suffered a concussion or lost an eye through stray limbs. I think given more space it would have looked a lot better.
The sound mixing needs some work. In a lot of the songs you could only hear the ensemble singing, not the soloists as the backing track was too loud, although to be fair to them this is a difficult shaped theatre with the addition of the rumble of trains regularly overhead.
The first half was also far too long, coming in at 70 mins. We can only hope that this reduces slightly once the show gets going and runs smoother.
Despite all this, at least they fulfilled the promises made in the Manifesto that was printed on the first page of the programme, which is more than can be said of most political parties…
- Aim to be funnier than Phantom Of The Opera – Not difficult but they still succeeded.
- Having been hailed as Monty Python meets Blackadder – Definitely didn’t live up to that honour at all.
- Makes no promises on Immigration targets or on hitting the right notes in the musical numbers as both are out of their control – Can’t disagree with them there.
- Aim to make at least five members of the audience groan or roll their eyes per show – Yes, but not necessarily in a good way
- Make about as much sense as a Labour Budget or Boris Johnson after a night out – Even less sense if that’s possible. I still have no idea why Casey ended up a hero.
There are however some redeeming features of this show. The obvious star names are Stevi Ritchie and Stacey Franks (McClean), however it’s Dan Cavendish and Affton Fay who steal the show. Dan’s Sir Percival and Inventor Chris are both hilarious and played with perfect comic timing, and his duet A Servant’s Lot with Dolton Wood as Neil was brilliantly written and performed, with great chemistry between the two. I look forward to seeing what Dan does in the future as this was his professional debut. Fay, who plays the short sighted prophet and Merlot the drunk Wizard is simply brilliant and the Queen of facial expressions. She played both parts to perfection, holding nothing back and had me giggling all the way through the penultimate song.
There are some great little nods to other West End musicals which for the musical theatre geeks in the audience is great. The ‘Les Mis Walk’ and flag wave even make an appearance!
One fantastic thing about this show is that they’re giving new graduates a chance. LAPA always try and create opportunities for talented youngsters which is one of the reasons why they wanted to give the show another airing and I believe that is a very good reason to do so. There are 9 members of this cast making their professional musical debuts and I hope this leads onto other things for them.
Above all else the cast look like they’re enjoying it and, as they say themselves in the show, doing the best they can with the script they have! This feels more like a late night cabaret show to go to after a few drinks, I don’t think its location and time (7:30pm) really do it any favours. I’d be interested to see what this show would be like in somewhere like the Leicester Square Theatre with bars in the auditorium in their 9pm slot.
I’ve given it an extra half star to what I think it deserves as press night was only two days into the run so I’m hopeful that it will improve a bit as the run goes on.
The Sword and the dope is currently playing at the Waterloo East Theatre until 1st October 2017. For more information visit http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/the%20sword%20and%20the%20dope.html