When The Daily Star starts to applaud your sense of humour, you know something's gone wrong.
Although it left much of the audience unscathed, a ghostly suggestion seems to haunt Spamalot, which returns to the West End after a three year absence: perhaps Eric Idle's acclaimed and award-winning "lovingly ripped off" Python musical just isn't that funny anymore.
Turning off the lights to answer the question "why do they call them the Dark Ages?", reaching forward on mention of the Fourth Wall as if you might touch something, and, indeed, the entirety of "The Song That Goes Like This" seem to me childish regressions that do little to valorise the Python legacy.
Despite the University of Cambridge crest slapped somewhat mystifyingly on his chest, Marcus Brigstocke as Arthur says and does little that could be thought clever. He works his way through the absurd exchanges into which his quest for the Holy Grail lead him with an endearing wit, and also sustains a pleasing comedy through his songs. But barely anything allows him to bolt clear of the mediocre, or work up the titter-inducing into the uproarious.
Kit Orton as Lancelot also demonstrates a great, vibrant comic facility onstage, but is hampered by the uncomfortable necessity of playing his character as though being gay is inherently the height of comedy. Likewise, leading lady Bonnie Langford as the Lady of the Lake is stuck channeling the power of her impressive diva capabilities, and blistering pipes, into the anaemic metatheatre of singing about how her part isn't long or glamorous enough.
A peek at what a properly irreverent and fun musical might look like appears in the latter half, in the form of "You Won't Succeed in Showbiz", or, as I prefer to think of it, "the topical bit". Loaded to the brim with references to Sebastian Coe, Boris Johnson, ticketing fiascos and other issues du jour, it has a real pacey sparkle that outshines every other number in the show. On the downside, it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the narrative, to which the show slumps back for an unmemorable finale.
I was excited about the return of Spamalot; it could have sounded a clarion call for kooky Britishness in LOCOG's corporate Jerusalem. But last night was more of a fart in my general direction.
(Photo: Francis Loney)