One of my favourite comedy films of all time is Monty Python And The Holy Grail, so when the spin-off musical Spamalot came to town it seemed rude not to attend.
Thankfully it was really great. The plot loosely followed King Arthur’s quest for the “Grrrrrrrraaaaaail” [/Tim The Enchanter], but there were a batch of new, often very funny, songs, and much breaking of the fourth wall. The show became gradually more surreal throughout, taking in a variety of popular culture in its second half (indicating annual script updates since the show’s debut in 2005), and by the end it lived up to the Monty Python legend pretty magnificently.
The strange thing, though, was that some of the crowd-pleasing scenes lifted straight from the movie (the French insults, the Knights of Ni) didn’t come across quite as well on stage, probably due to the different comic timing compared to the much-loved and revered originals. Notably the insults from the French weren’t as impeccably delivered, which left that classic scene disappointingly flat (for me personally, although others in the audience would probably disagree).
Where Spamalot did gain, though, was in the introduction of the character of the Lady of the Lake, a diva figure who in the second half of the show sang satirically about her own absence from the previous few scenes (with a superb voice, I might add). There was also an inspired sub-plot about Lancelot’s sexuality: “After all these years, it’s still controversial.” One surprise was that the script seems to be adapted each night to allow specific gags about each host city (Bristol was subject to barbs about Justin Lee Collins, and the Knights of Ni’s fascination for The Wurzels made King Arthur – as played by Marcus Brigstocke – temporarily lose it on stage.)
The combination of new stuff allied to old material worked really well, and even during familiar territory I never quite knew what was coming next. The overall effect was that Spamalot was like a combination of the best adult pantomime and in-joked school play, and the result was hilarious. Life of Brian next, please, Mr Idle. Thank you.