THE OPERA House theatre is currently hosting Spamalot, a familiar and rather silly tale of a quest; the well-known Arthurian legend. This first aired as a film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, before having songs and a few steps of dance added to turn it into a successful musical.
It might be called Spamalot, but it’s really a ‘marmite’ show. As the gags take a move away from Oxbridge humour towards a weak edition of Crackerjack.
King Arthur (Joe Pasquale) accompanied by loyal servant Patsy (Todd Carty) travel the land seeking knights for his “very, very round table”. A brief screen-only meeting with God (Professor Brian Cox) gives him a much needed purpose; to seek the Holy Grail.
All set off at a trot on their imaginary horses, accessorised by the clip-clop of Patsy’s sound-effect coconut shells. Todd Carty makes a superb Patsy, with excellent timing and a commendably slightly underplayed pathos. His sense of musical timing and movement on an un-iced stage are far greater than his Dancing on Ice exploits would suggest. Pasquale’s natural likeability makes Arthur seem like a nice-ish guy, for a king, whose blind spots, mainly selfishness and disdain for others, are simply a natural expression of his role.
Sarah Earnshaw, Lady of the Lake, has a strong voice which does justice to main numbers The Diva’s Lament and The Song That Goes Like This, a pastiche of standard modern musical style.
One of the better songs Always Look on the Bright Side of Life brings a welcome lift, but that’s lifted from Life of Brian. The best song I’m All Alone, a superbly performed piece sensitive to the loneliness of the king and equally insensitive to the companionship offered by Patsy, would grace any musical, but is rather too direct to be truly Pythonesque.
The rest of the able cast play a variety of roles, including the knights, each of whom have their own minor song and dance slot, the most popular being Jamie Tyler’s coming out song His Name is Lancelot. Richard Meek’s scores another audience success with his doomed but spirited Black Knight.
Brian Cox is a great choice to play an easily-irritated God, kitted out in a floaty white dress, blonde wig and bright red lipstick, and delivering his lines via screen while he gets on with his day jobs of Physics Professor and all-round TV science explainist.
The original Monty Python’s Flying Circus was ground-breaking. In those days most homes had only one TV, so cult student hits were on view to the family during vacations. I can still recall their initial disdain and subsequent conversion.
I’m still a fan of the early material - the philosophical discussions in the launderette as well as the better known sketches - and this style is well-represented in the earlier parts of the show, with discussions about anarcho-syndicalist communes and the questionable validity of women in lakes distributing swords as a basis for government combined with core silliness as a pomposity reducing mechanism, but completely disappears after the interval, to be replaced by standard silliness.
It might be called Spamalot, but it’s really a ‘marmite’ show. As the gags take a move away from Oxbridge humour towards a weak edition of Crackerjack, half the audience is in fits of laughter and half is not. The friend who accompanied me said it was the funniest thing she’d seen in ages; I found much of the second half totally uninspiring and dated. The audience seemed equally divided.
This show is set to tour for six months, with a demanding schedule. I’m sure it still has its admirers but it’s not for everyone, and certainly lacks the kick of the original Python concept, despite recruiting one of the country’s best known physicists to play God.
Spamalot, The Opera House, Weds 21 - Sat 24 January.
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