“How the [expletive] hell do you review that?” a fellow audience member asked as we made our way out of the New Wimbledon Theatre. Previous productions of Spamalot have been reviewed before, of course, but I found her comment strangely comforting, given the anarchic nature of the evening’s proceedings, in which it became difficult, particularly in the second half, to tell what was scripted, what was improvised humour, and what was simply unintended humour that a closely-knit cast went along with and made the most of.
I do not consider myself a fan of the Monty Python series, and so do not approach this show with rose-tinted glasses. I have seen this show before, however, and my previous encounters with Spamalot have both been in the same venue as this touring production. At the end of May 2010 I attended a production starring Marcus Brigstocke, the comedian and satirist, and Jodie Prenger, who had won a BBC Television series to cast someone to play Nancy in a West End revival of Oliver!. Just over a year later, Phill Jupitus starred as King Arthur.
Here, in 2017, Bob Harms performs the lead role with considerable aplomb, though the powerhouse vocals are the preserve of the Lady of the Lake (Sarah Harlington). She growls a tad too much for my liking, overdoing it, but then Spamalot as a whole is a bit overdone. Take, for instance, ‘I’m All Alone’, a late number in Act Two, where the point about King Arthur having psychological it’s-lonely-at-the-top feelings despite being physically surrounded by the knights of the round table and his trusty assistant Patsy (Rhys Owen) is hammered home until the punchline is in danger of outlasting its welcome.
It is, for the most part, very silly, and as ever, the Python humour doesn’t suit everyone. It works well on stage, fully embracing the concept of theatre as a form of escapism. Yes, I am thinking especially of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’. The choreography (Ashley Nottingham) suits the silliness brilliantly, with occasional solo flourishes that left the audience audibly gasping – in a good way, I hasten to add. In its elaborate putdowns, the script (Eric Idle) demonstrates imaginative vocabulary. On the other hand, the show feels somewhat smug and, taken at face value, the show’s conclusion as various storylines are resolved in order to serve up a happy and joyful musical theatre ending is not wholly convincing.
But I doth protest too much. If the narrative elements of Monty Python and the Holy Grail are all crammed in to this show – horse riders with no visible horse, the Knights Who Say ‘Ni!’, the ever-defiant Black Knight, and so on – there is some originality in the musical numbers, with much to be enjoyed in the satirical number ‘The Song That Goes Like This’. It’s both a tribute and a parody of the sort of majestic love songs found in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that require performers to “overact like hell”.
There are topical references too, which I could attempt to list, but this would, I think, prove too much of a spoiler. Suffice to say that there is a determined effort to include some current affairs in the narrative, in a manner bettered only by seasonal pantos. All things considered, it’s great fun: short and sharp and entertaining.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Funnier than the black death!
Lovingly ripped off from the hugely successful 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot is a riotous comedy full of misfit knights, killer rabbits, dancing nuns and ferocious Frenchmen. Join King Arthur as he travels with his hapless Knights of the Round Table on a divine mission to locate the illusive Holy Grail – with uproarious consequences.
Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best New Musical the hilarious Spamalot was written by Python legend Eric Idle, with a fantastic score co-written by John DuPrez including Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.
Produced by the award winning Selladoor Productions – producers of Footloose, American Idiot, Avenue Q and Little Shop of Horrors and Mercury Theatre Colchester, this brand new UK tour of Spamalot will have audiences rolling in the aisles.
New Wimbledon Theatre
Booking to 25th November 2017