Monty Python's Spamalot
Eric Idle and John Du Prez
Palace Theatre, Manchester, and touring
A little over six months after it visited Manchester's Opera House on its first-ever UK tour, Monty Python's first foray into the world of musical theatre returns to the Opera House's sister theatre, the Palace, with almost the same cast as before.
There were two newcomers to the cast when it opened in Manchester, only one of them scheduled: comedian Phill Jupitus has recently taken over the role of King Arthur from Marcus Brigstocke, and, after Jodie Prenger suffered an injury during rehearsals, Jessica Martin—who is playing the part on some stops on the tour—was pulled in at the last minute to play the Lady of the Lake.
Having more in common with a sketch revue than a book musical, the show combines most of the famous scenes from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (some notable exceptions include the witch trial scene and the castle of nymphomaniacs) with songs that sometimes advance the meandering plot and sometimes send up the musical theatre form. So we get the "bring out your dead" scene with a song and dance routine, and extended version of the "Camelot" song, French taunters, Swamp Castle, Tim the Enchanger, the Black Knight, constitutional peasants, the rabbit and a great deal more. The show is actually given a bit more narrative consistency than the film by having characters in the early sketches turn out to be future knights.
In many ways it is an adult panto, even to the extent of bringing a member of the audience on stage and ending with a singalong to a songsheet (as if we need a songsheet for "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life"!). In all, it is simply huge fun, from the familiar scenes that some of us know off by heart (with changes to work in new plot or contemporary references) to songs that send up the whole form of musical theatre: the Lady of the Lake sings lines such as, "Once in every show there comes a song like this" and "Whatever happened to my part?... We're halfway through act two and I've had nothing yet to do".
Arthur is a fairly straight role as everything just happens to him but it does require good comic timing, and Jupitus pulls it off with confidence and one or two great ad libs. As the token female (the all-male Pythons were never great at writing female parts unless they played them themselves), Martin can produce an amazingly-powerful voice from her diminutive frame, although she doesn't have the natural comic sensibility of Prenger. Todd Carty has grown into the role of Patsy and brings to it great comic physicality.
The knights, peasants and other assorted characters are played by a superbly-talented ensemble who appear to be having far too much fun and play a lot of the broad comedy very lightly and subtly to greatly increase its effect. Simon Lipkin gives a wonderful performance as hair-flicking Sir Galahad, giving a great interpretation with Martin of "Once In Every Show", David Langham utilises his quirky physicality to the full for Prince Herbert and Not Dead Fred, Samuel Holmes is a quietly-camp Sir Robin, Graham McDuff a sexually-confused Sir Lancelot and Robin Armstrong the bookish Sir Bedevere. The characters may be silly and over-the-top but the performances are all beautifully controlled.
I must admit that, once again, I spent the whole two hours sat with a silly grin on my face. Theatre isn't often this much fun; Spamalot will be a welcome visitor to Manchester any time.
Running until 12th February
Peter Lathan reviewed this production at Sunderland Empire
Reviewer: David Chadderton