Book and Lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Reviewer: David Robinson
As the winter chill tightens its fierce grip around the Coventry ring road it seems a timely moment to enjoy the Monty Python advice of always looking on the bright side of life, whatever the weather.
The touring show is produced by Selladoor productions in partnership with the Mercury Theatre, Colchester and has a dubious claim to be “spammier” than ever. The 2005 Broadway version is a Tony award-winning musical and is ‘affectionately ripped off’ from the tremendously successful 1975 Monty Python film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Python legend Eric Idle writes the script and is aided by John Du Prez with the score. Spamalot is, in essence, another tale of King Arthur and his hapless Knights of the Round Table, their mission to seek out the Holy Grail; the consequences and the circuitous route taken are inevitably at times hilarious and even zany when given the usual Python treatment in word and, of course, silly song.
The cast for the touring production is considerably smaller than the West End and Broadway versions as indeed, it seems, is the budget. The lavish set and props are missing and in some measure, it sadly lacks any grand medieval style. But the rather lacklustre setting is more than made up for by the exuberance and fun generated by the cast of thirteen, many of whom are covering more than one role seamlessly. Bob Harms, though, is King Arthur throughout and plays it with a straight bat and a stiff upper lip despite the remnants of a pantomime that seem to constantly unfold around him. He spars wonderfully with his companion Patsy, sympathetically and subtly portrayed by Rhys Owen. Subtly takes some doing in such an eccentric show but Owen and Harms both manage it beautifully, particularly in their perceptive version of the song I’m All Alone. Sarah Harlington as The Lady of the Lake is not one for subtlety but ensures she milks every one of her centre-stage diva moments for what they are worth. And this she achieves with some style. Whatever Happened to my Part is delightfully and acerbically delivered as is The song that goes like this, her duet with Sir Galahad (a joyous comic depiction by Norton James who pops up in various guises with a great vaudevillian style on each occasion).
The Knights all get their moment in the limelight and indeed at times it almost becomes a medieval cabaret with everyone having their “spot”; we even have a slice of audience participation thrown in for good measure. His Name is Lancelot receives the full burlesque treatment with Johnathan Tweedie as Lancelot and Matthew Pennington as Prince Herbert dazzling and foppish in equal measure as well as a welcome return for Norton James, this time as Herbert’s curmudgeonly and disagreeable father. Daniel Buckroyd’s uninhibited direction squeezes out all the madcap humour and allows the “stand and deliver” routines to shine with a cheeky sparkle. You almost forget the quest for the grail and instead sit back and enjoy a very enjoyable song and dance evening.
You can’t always look on the bright side and it is a shame that the cutbacks in production values at times let the show down, but an exuberant company of Knights and an enchanting Lady of the Lake won’t keep you down for long.
Runs until 3 March 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed
Interested to read about your comparison with the West End and Broadway. I too found it seemed a rather shoe-string production but wasn’t sure whether that was meant to be part of the effect (the film is rather cheap in style).