For the first few scenes of Spamalot, I had the same reservations that many of the Monty Python members had when the show debuted in 2004. Why would I want to pay to watch non-Monty Python actors reproduce their sketches on stage, when I could just go home and pop in my Monty Python and the Holy Grail DVD and see the real thing? However, after a slightly shaky start, I started to see exactly why Eric Idle had decided to write the show, despite his fellow Pythons’ lack of interest.
Avid fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail will recognise many of their favourite scenes recreated almost word for word in Spamalot. Despite my doubts, it seemed that most of those sketches are still absolutely hilarious no matter who is performing them, and the cast did well at keeping the Monty Python style whilst still making the jokes and characters their own. I did mourn slightly for John Cleese’s French taunter, which is one of my favourite comic scenes of all time, but many of the scenes were actually enhanced by the stage show. In the film, Not Dead Fred, the very much alive man who Cleese tries to put on the cart full of dead people, gets only a short scene and a couple of lines, but in Spamalot he gets a whole song and becomes a recurring character, much to the audience’s delight.
The new parts and characters written specifically for the show are also excellent: the addition of the Lady of the Lake as a new character (a woman, finally!) turns what could have been a slapstick comedy with songs in it into a proper musical. Played by the excellent Sarah Earnshaw, she is a classic musical theatre diva, and her fourth-wall breaking ballads get some of the biggest laughs of the show. All of the cast were great, but another special mention has to go to Joe Pasquale as King Arthur. Those who have seen his stand-up comedy will know that he has an almost unbelievably high-pitched voice, and he is certainly not the first person that jumps to mind when one thinks of brave King Arthur, leader of the Knights of Camelot. But this is exactly why he is so perfect, and I left feeling that the Pythons actually missed a trick by making Graham Chapman play it straight in the film. He also corpsed a lot, which, although unprofessional, certainly seems in the spirit of Monty Python, and was also just hilarious, as corpsing usually is.
If it’s not already patently obvious, Spamalot is a very silly show. If you come expecting anything more than utter ridiculousness, you will be disappointed. But if, like me, you enjoy stupid puns, fart jokes, and watching men in silly costumes riding around on fake horses whilst banging coconuts, then you’re in for a treat of an evening. At times Spamalot can seem a bit pantomime-esque, especially when an audience member is dragged onstage, and at the end when the ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ lyrics drop down from the ceiling so that the audience can join in. But then, why should it not be? Everyone wishes they could have been a part of the Monty Python crew, and Spamalot gives you a chance to join in the magic whilst revering and poking fun at the original cult classic film in equal measure.
Spamalot is playing at Richmond Theatre until 31 January, before continuing on its national tour. For more information and tickets, see the ATG Tickets website.