Pubished on Public Reviews 26th May
Just in case anyone was worried about how John Cleese was going to afford his latest alimony payments or Michael Palin a new set of walking boots for his latest round the world trip, Spamalot has rolled back into Bath on another UK tour, cashing in the coffers whilst showing that it is still the silliest, most lovable show on the circuit.
For those living under a rock, Eric Idle’s musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail sees King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table embark upon a quest, set by God (a video performance by Palin who seems to be morphing into Nigel Planer as he gets older) to find the Holy Grail. It restages the film’s highlights; the flatulating French soldiers, the knights who say “nee”, the “tis just a flesh wound” duel and incorporates songs by John Du Prez and Idle that fiendishly riff off other musicals whilst finding their own hummable tone.
Christopher Luscombe’s production has stripped everything right back for this touring version and it works a charm. So even if Hugh Durrant’s design deliberately puts one in mind of watching weekly rep in Torquay, Luscombe has fashioned a piece proud of its small budget, of finding inventive ways of staging the set pieces; the ensemble act like troopers in multiple roles and the whole thing rollicks along on the wind of its Python absurdity.
In a change from the Broadway version, one of the songs, rather than making the claim you can’t succeed on Broadway without any Jews (and really that was a joke that could only succeed in that city) claims you can’t succeed without any stars. It lists Cowell and Gaga, Ant and Dec, even walk on roles for Miliband and Clegg – hey they’ve probably got the time now – all of whom would have proved preferable to I’m A Celebrity winner and stand-up Joe Pasquale who, as Arthur, lacks heft dramatically and vocally. It seems somewhat perverse to put a comedian in the straight guy role, he only seems comfortable when he gets to interact with an audience member late on and, when he sings, his small reedy voice is drowned out anytime anyone else joins in. When Sarah Earnshaw as the Lady of the Lake joins in to duet he may as well book a trip back to the Australian jungle, so little do we notice him.
Earnshaw out-divas Mariah Carey in the stand out performance of the night, turning up the riffs notch to 11 and there is great support from Jamie Tyler as in-the-closet Lancelot and Richard Kent as the in-peril Herbert, more interested in home décor and singing in his lilting falsetto than marrying the beautiful princess. It’s not subtle but you don’t book a Python show for that. As we get to the sing-a-long Always Look on the Bright Side of Life finale, I’m wishing for another fifteen minutes. It offers as much fun as you can have in the theatre; hell as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. If you haven’t seen it, go see. If you have, well you’ve probably already booked again.