“We’re opera mad in Camelot
We sing from the diaphragm a lot”
Though Joe Pasquale may be joining the cast of Spamalot from the 17th June to play King Arthur for six weeks, I would say that now is actually a great time to go and see the show at the Playhouse Theatre, tucked away down by Embankment station. Though it may arguably lack a ‘star name’, what it does offer is an extremely strong piece of musical theatre, delivered excellently by bona fide musical theatre performers, and none more so than Robin Armstrong who makes for an utterly adorable central presence as the King of the Britons.
I only actually saw the show for the first time when it started its tour back in 2010 as since we never really watched Monty Python in our household as kids, the show held no fascination for me when it was in the West End. But its utter silliness and its determination not to take itself too seriously at all won me over and so I was more than happy to make a return visit, especially given the names that were popping up in the cast.
Kit Orton – an actor who actually makes me swoon – was excellent in the recent The Hired Man and makes an impressively virile Sir Lancelot here, though his French knight is hilarious and his Tim the Enchanter is most definitely relevant to my interests. Samuel J Holmes, a temporary member of this cast, has been one to watch for me since I first saw him in the all-male Pirates of Penzance and slotted in very well, Mrs Galahad probably his best moment. And Bonnie Langford (the possible exception to the star casting?) is clearly revelling being on the stage again, her show-stealing turn in 9 to 5 matched by the more obvious melodramatics of the Lady of the Lake here, a role entirely suited to a woman who oozes showbiz.
The show still zips along at a nifty pace, full of laughs and cheesily topical references – Boris bikes good, Jedward not so much – and so much of it is just irresistibly good fun. The scenes with the guards defending Prince Herbert left me helpless with laughter once again, the killer rabbit will never not be funny and the reinventions of the knights – Rob Delaney’s Sir Robin and Chris Jenkins’ tousled Sir Galahad making up the rest of the set – constantly keep you on your toes with their surreal riffs and amusing absurdities.
And at the heart of it, Robin Armstrong’s King Arthur felt like a perfectly suited leading man. Subtle is the wrong word to use in this context but there’s something just right in the way that he doesn’t overplay the broad comic notes as imported comedians might be wont to do, demonstrating an innate understanding of how the laughs will come anyway when the material, as written by Eric Idle, is this funny. Hitting the right note of goofy charm, he is worth making the trip to see this show, which remains as entertaining as it ever did.