Book/Lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Reviewer: Lizz Clark
The legend of King Arthur is a cultural cornerstone, endlessly available to be reinterpreted and – naturally – spoofed. The Monty Python crew recognised this when they made 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and thanks to Eric Idle and John Du Prez, in 2005 it became Spamalot, an all-singing, all-dancing, all-fish-schlapping musical, chronicling Arthur and his knights’ search for the Grail with a great deal of Pythonesque silliness along the way.
A touring version of that Broadway and West End hit, this production from The Mercury Theatre Colchester is smaller in cast and lacks a few of the lavish props and costumes, but the company nonetheless fills the stage with flair and exuberance. Laughs are rarely thin on the ground: the classic Python scenes are still silly and funny, although the style here can be rather more pantomime than Monty’s absurdist oeuvre ever was. Bob Harms’ Arthur is the only straight-man – everyone else is either enjoying the silliness of everything, or else breaking the fourth wall for comic effect.
But it works. The Lady of the Lake, Sarah Harlington, is a pitch-perfect diva in every scene – squeezing every drop out of songs like Whatever Happened to My Part? and the jazz spoof of The Song That Goes Like This. Norton James as Galahad is the Lady’s partner in The Song That Goes Like This, and the two play off each other so hilariously to send up the romantic form that it’s a shame Galahad only gets one big number.
Everyone else who gets a big moment makes the most of it too. Sir Robin’s song about how they won’t succeed in showbiz without a star is jam-packed with cultural references and delivered with style by Stephen Arden. Rhys Owen as Arthur’s downtrodden coconut-basher, Patsy, shines in I’m All Alone, although he nails the lovable underdog throughout.
Director Daniel Buckroyd draws the silliness out of every moment – the sight of an unnamed monk and nun flinging each other around the dance floor will live long in the memory – and the pace is non-stop. Sara Perks’ design does the job well, though the costumes mostly outshine the set. The Lady of the Lake in particular has a beautiful, opulent dressing-gown for one scene, as well as a dazzlingly yellow number covered in feathers and sequins, which Harlington glories in.
Aside from the triumphant satire of The Song That Goes Like This, with its lines about overacting and the obligatory key change, the first half features few of the most memorable songs. As the second half gets underway, there’s a hiccup in the form of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – obligatory, yet awkwardly shoehorned into the plot – but there are no weak moments from then on. Joel Benedict, who on opening night covers the role of damsel-in-distress Prince Herbert, is great as the sensitive soul, longing for a knight to rescue him, whose cantankerous father (a brilliant reappearance of Norton James) won’t let him be himself.
Yes, this is the most surprising addition to the plot of the Holy Grail film: a gay romance. It has a camp comedic element – all the male cast ham up the coming-out song in glittery hot pants – but in fact it’s played much more seriously than the heterosexual plotline. After Herbert finds his true love, there’s little left to do but find the Grail, in an uproarious scene complete with audience interaction, and storm through an energetic finale. It’s an evening of tremendous fun, packed with great performances and hilarious details.
Runs until 11th November | Image: Contributed