Casting celebrities in West End shows is a proven money-maker, but not everyone approves of the method. I for one, would always prefer to see a show with a company of stage performers who have spent many years honing their craft rather than someone with a famous face. There are times when that is a beneficial addition though, and for all the right reasons.
Currently playing at the Playhouse Theatre, Monty Python’s Spamalot is at the centre of ‘The Summer of Spamalot Charity Gods’, a fundraising event which puts the emphasis on fun. The West End musical comedy will see a parade of famous faces come and go throughout the summer as a selection of celebrity actors appear as God to raise money for charity. Each celebrity participant will donate their fee for playing the role of God, with each of their filmed appearances to be shown during performances of the show for a week-long run. Their personally chosen charities include Headley Court Rehabilitation Centre, The Make A Wish Foundation, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Scene & Heard, Stage For Age and Keats Community Library.
Hugh Bonneville is the first celebrity guest, having kicked off the season in style at last night’s (Monday 15th July 2013) Spamalot show. Audience members can see the Downton Abbey actor performing as God all this week in aid of his chosen charity, Scene & Heard. Bonneville is a dedicated supporter of the North London organisation, which gives local young people living in challenging circumstances the opportunity to work with arts professionals and create theatre scripted entirely by the children. Thanking Spamalot producers for helping raise awareness of the charity, he also quipped that he was “delighted to be involved with the show because an ancestor on my mother’s side was in fact one of the Knights who say Ni.” Best known for his role as Robert, Earl of Grantham in the popular BBC period drama series Downton Abbey, he also has extensive experience as a stage actor and appeared with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the award-winning film Notting Hill.
Also putting in a performance at the Playhouse will be beloved British actress Barbara Windsor. She will be at the theatre on Monday 5th August 2013 for the start of her week-long run as God, also making history as Spamalot’s first female God. The pint-sized actress, best known for her early roles in the Carry On films and playing Peggy Mitchell in BBC soap Eastenders, attributed one of the reasons for playing God to her height, saying that “this would be the first and only time people would look up to me…”
Following in Windsor’s heavenly footsteps is stage and screen actor Simon Callow, who will be in the Spamalot audience for his first night as God on Monday 12th August 2013. Callow will be raising money for the Keats Grove library, which was re-opened after its closure thanks to the efforts of a group of local people, helmed by his friend and fellow actor Lee Montague. The opportunity to support the library he used to regularly frequent was obviously a big part of the decision to appear in the ‘Summer of Spamalot Gods’, but Callow also couldn’t resist the chance to play God in what he calls “a work of genius,” adding that, “it’s such a challenging role for a mere mortal.” Callow has played many stage roles during the course of his long and impressive career, and has also appeared on the big screen in such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and the film-adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.
Also making celebrity appearances in Spamalot this summer are Larry Lamb, Bradley Walsh and Christopher Biggins’, whose opening nights as God are still to be announced. The role of God is usually played by Python member Eric Idle, who created the stage musical in 2004 based on the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Sir Howard Panter, who is a producer of Spamalot for Ambassador Theatre Group, said of ‘The Summer of Spamalot Charity Gods’, “It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to bring friends of the show in to the role of God in this way, so that we can help such deserving causes while making audiences laugh .”
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 16th July 2013