Firstly, a Historian’s Introduction: New York City, 2005; Eric Idle, a man with a vision, gathered together the great and noble of American theatre and brought the off-beat 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Broadway. Drawing from its original material as sleekly and effortlessly as Arthur drew the sword from the stone, the musical was an instant hit with critics and audiences alike and found the Holy Grail of musical theatre, the Tony Award for Best Musical.
John Du Prez and Eric Idle have written songs which are as infectious as a bout of tenth century plague. Playing along with the rich history of comedy and song in the original Monty Python sketches and skits, the production combines full orchestrations of old favourites such as Always Look on the Bright Side of Life with brand new silly-British-rib-ticklers. The show has undergone an extensive rewrite since then and grown like a shrubbery to reflect the audience and the times. Expect scathing attacks on Simon Cowell and numerous tongue in cheek portrayals of local heroes...
Led by musical newcomer Marcus Brigstocke’s witty and sardonic King Arthur, the cast’s Knights of the Round Table are all-round bunch of performers. Directed by Christopher Luscombe, Todd Carty’s Patsy combines a naive sweetness with a charming East End savvy whilst Simon Lipkin’s excellent Sir Galahad hilariously parodies the vain hair-tossing Prince Charmings of fairytale and folklore.
Hayley Tamaddon’s sweetly self-obsessed Lady of the Lake gets the best of the show’s big numbers and performs them with a Mariah Carey inspired diva temper. Last appearing on a Scottish stage as Janet in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror, the recent Dancing on Ice champion is the star in a perfect cast, swapping Frank N Furter’s corset and heels for the Monty Python Lumberjack’s suspenders and bra.
Although Spamalot is closer to a Golden Era musical than it would perhaps like to admit, it delights in lampooning the genre, dragging up nuns and having them dirty dance with monks and having its male leads tap dance to the clicking sound of coconut shells being rattled together. Perhaps as a consequence, Hugh Durrant’s scenic design visually glances between a Holy Book of Hours and a glittering Las Vegas showgirl’s sequined underwear.
Whilst the book and the score are as engaging as they were on its Broadway opening night, the production itself has taken some significant cuts in its quest. The spectacle of the original has been massively scaled down to a cast of twelve, excellent as they are, and the stage feels at times depressingly empty. Jenny Arnold’s enjoyable choreography cannot inspire as it should with so few dancers and the show’s big numbers are at times underwhelming by sheer virtue of how reduced life is in the once many tower’d Camelot.
Despite these disappointing cutbacks, Monty Python’s Spamalot is a worthwhile night out and presented by one of the most genuinely engaging casts in touring theatre. Like the food that gave the show its name, Spamalot is a tinned version of all that the surrealist Pythons stood for, recycling the original meaty bits with something new and exciting and, at times, quite mysterious.