THE superbly silly new production of Spamalot at the Belgrade is a homecoming for the musical's choreographer Ashley Nottingham.
Ashley's love of dance was inspired during his childhood by the local pantos that his mum and dadworked on.
He said: "My mother used to choreograph the Coventry GEC pantomimes in the 70s, 80s and 90s alongside my father who directed them. I would watch my mum choreograph in the lounge when I was a baby. Year after year, I would see my parents create and rehearse the pantomimes and I was desperate to get involved somehow.
"I joined a dance school when I was three and loved it so much that I gradually began to assist my dance teacher. At primary school I would direct my own variety shows that featured all of my talented friends, in the 15-minute break time in the school hall, for which I charged 15p for entry!"
After years of dance training and participating in amateur theatre in Coventry, Ashley moved to London to study Theatre Dance at the London Studio Centre. He raised his tuition fees by holding a variety show at the Albany Theatre using the best of Coventry talent which then became an annual event for six years. After professional training he went on to perform in West End musical theatre for ten years, working with some of the world’s greatest choreographers and directors. Now he's living my childhood dream of being a freelance choreographer.
At the age of five, he performed in his first show at the Butts (now the Albany Theatre) and that was it - he was hooked!
He said: "I can still remember the feeling on stage and the inspiration it gave me to continue, learn from the older dancers and progress. My dancing school principal, Kathy Stokes, was always a huge inspiration.
She worked us hard with technical exams but always included show work (not competitions) and performance so we could link everything together with musicality and emotion.
"My other inspiration was choreographer Beryl Thomas who choreographed the
Coventry Youth Operetta group in the 80s and 90s. She was a very strict woman who knew how to get results from a group of passionate performers."
Ashley admits he wasn’t a Monty Python fan until he reached adulthood but he thinks the musical is a beautifully crafted masterpiece with an infectious score by John Du Prez, has a brilliant bunch of actors and a terrific director who gave him time and space to experiment.
He said: "The audience can sit back and enjoy a fast-paced and energetic musical comedy with something in it for every member of the family. The show is a runaway train that never slows down. The cast is led by King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake who well and truly navigate everyone at full pelt. There are so many character and costume changes for all of the actors right from the very first number in the show, so they never really get to stop!"
Ashley has fond memories of the Belgrade and will be coming up to Coventry at the weekend to cheer the cast on.
He siad: "I performed in the Gang Shows when I was in the 80th Cub group which I enjoyed immensely and I remember doing the John Spencer concerts there with my dancing school. I always came to watch the Belgrade pantomimes and supported the touring productions.
"I loved getting a programme to read the actors’ biographies and I still have so many of them. I particularly remember seeing Tap Dogs. It’s almost as if the whole of the city came to watch, the atmosphere was incredible!
"I do come home a few times a year and I always get the latest information from my family. Mum will often keep newspaper cuttings of articles that she knows I will be interested in.
"My brother, Myles Nottingham, is the Commanding Officer for the Corps of Drums (based in Cheylesmore) which celebrates 70 years this year. The marching band are always asked to attend the latest Coventry festivals and celebrations so I am always kept up to date with the Coventry buzz.
"The City Of Culture is a great win, it makes me so proud!
Spamalot is at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 3
March. Tickets are available to book now by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055, or by
visiting www.belgrade.co.uk where prices are even cheaper.