Billed as a new musical lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot is a full bodied send-up of the Arthurian legend, as well as a wickedly self aware parody of the musical theatre genre.
Not overly troubled with plot, the narrative follows King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in their quest to find the religious relic, and their various encounters with glorious ‘pythonesque’ charicatures. The show faithfully reprises some of the most iconic situations, well loved by people old enough to have seen (and understood!) the 1975 movie, such as: the killer rabbit, the black knight and ‘the Knights who say Ni (!?)
The score, by Eric Idle and John Du Prez contains a couple of songs familiar to Python fans - ‘Knights of the Round Table’ (composed by Neil Innes for Monty Python and the Holy Grail - with the immortal line ‘‘We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spamalot’ providing inspiration for the show’s title) and ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ (borrowed from Monty Python’s Life of Brian) - as well as a clutch of new numbers which parody various musical cliches. The best of these being ‘The Song That Goes Like This’ and ‘The Divas Lament’. The dancing, with choreography by Jenny Arnold, manages to capture the idiocy of ‘python’ humour (‘The Fisch Slapping Dance’) whilst still delivering the style and energy demanded of a west end musical.
Stand-up comedian Marcus Brigstocke is surprisingly strong in the central role of King Arthur, delivering a great turn in the role brilliantly defined on screen by Graham Chapman, with sterling support from Todd Carty as Patsy, his serf. Hayley Tamaddon as ‘The Lady of the Lake’ gets the greatest opportunity to show off her powerhouse musical talent in two of the shows best numbers, and proves that she is a fine comic actress.
Even Eric Idle manages to get in on the act, on screen at least, appearing as God (who else?)
Not having seen the original west end production, it is difficult to compare this production with that, which ran at the Palace Theatre London, from 16 October 2006 until 3 January 2009. In general this production seems economic both in cast, scenery and running time (just under two hours) which would leave you feeling a little short changed at London prices, but is totally understandable and works well within the constraints of a touring production.
The humour is classic Monty Python, which would once have been considered anarchic and alternative, and now feels comfortable and well suited to mainstream musical comedy. With larger than life performances and a pantomime feel there is enough to entertain the younger folk who might not necessarily ‘get’ the more adult themes, and there are some great touches, with local and current cultural references added to each performance to make them unique for that audience.
The cast clearly have a ball playing in this irreverent, nonsensical, medieval romp, and the audience do too.