“In a thousand years, this will still be controversial”
I’ve never really been a fan of Monty Python and so had never felt the need to go and see Spamalot when it was running in the West End. But when a UK tour was announced, featuring a few interesting cast members, I decided to take the plunge and make my first visit to the New Wimbledon Theatre.
Described as a new musical loving ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is a largely irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend with some self-parodic numbers about musical theatre thrown in for good measure. It features a new book and lyrics from Eric Idle with John Du Prez contributing to the music, but contains a couple of songs from the original film and also possibly the most recognisable song Monty Python ever came up with, ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’. But really, it’s not about the plot, or the killer rabbit, or the French people, or the flying cow, or Finland, it’s about the humour and the silliness and the sheer enthusiasm onstage.
This is just a cracking ensemble: the diva-like Lady of the Lake offers Jodie Prenger numerous opportunities to flex her strong vocal muscles but also to ham it up with the best of them with a great comic performance, she really does have a great confident physical comedy presence as well as a fabulous voice and dare I say it, this role seems to suit her more than Nancy. Fresh from his run as Ruth in the all-male Pirates of Penzance (and clearly not taking part in its transfer to the Rose in Kingston), Samuel Holmes has great fun as Sir Robin with a bang-up-to-date You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz, original Avenue Q cast member Simon Lipkin was a (barely recognisable) hoot as the vain, hair-flipping Galahad and as Marcus Brigstocke was otherwise indisposed for the afternoon, we had the pleasure of Graham MacDuff playing King Arthur and he did a fine job.
Kit Orton then acted up as Lancelot and he was brilliant, the contrast between him and David Langham’s Prince Herbert was ace and they made a perfect couple. And on top of their roles as Knights of the Round Table, most everyone doubled or tripled up on roles, playing a range of silly supporting characters. Even Todd Carty does well as servant Patsy, mugging for all he’s worth. The cast were ably supported by an ensemble of four, good moments for them were the chorus line of two girls which raised a chuckle and the two guards defending Prince Herbert providing what was the possibly funniest scene in the whole show for me.
Never having seen the West End version, I can’t comment on the differences between the two productions, clearly the scale is going to be much smaller as this is a touring production and I wonder if that will disappoint people who’ve seen it before but personally I was surprised and really quite pleased at how current the cultural references were, thereby making real sense for their inclusion, Cheryl Cole and Susan Boyle are references that stuck in my head, but there was also a nice deal of chat about Wimbledon and Wimbledon Broadway in particular which was delightful. It’s a small thing but adds a nice sense of uniqueness to one’s own experience and shows a real appreciation for the audience coming out to the theatre which I just loved.
In the end it felt a bit like a pantomime, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the matinée silliness and the obvious attempts by the cast to make each other corpse, but somewhat unexpectedly, I fell for it hook line and sinker. It is funny, it is tuneful, it is mercifully brief and just a whole heap of undemanding fun. The tour is visiting Nottingham, Brighton, Bromley and Glasgow next but it is booking dates and cities well into 2011 so you’ll have ample opportunity to get a fun group of people together and go and see it, and I really rather think that you should!