Theatre Run: Continuing
Performance Reviewed: Monday 20 May 2013
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
It’s impossible to deny the massive cultural impact Cleese, Idle, Palin and pals had on the comedy landscape with their brilliantly original and decidedly before-it’s-time output of the 70’s, 80’s with Monty Python and beyond, and it’s no hyperbole to say the impact of their invention and inspired ludicrousness can still be felt in a swathe of comedy performers, shows and writing to this day, so it is with little surprise that Spamalot remains one of the most eccentric, self-reflexive and downright postmodern shows in the West End. It is also a heck of a lot of fun, being disarmingly witty, frequently hilarious and gloriously silly from the off. Loosely following (or ‘lovingly rips off’ as the show prefers) the plot of the 1975 Python classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, following the exploits of King Arthur and his colourful troupe of knights on their hunt for the titular chalice, consequently replicating some of the films most beloved sequences whilst allowing for cameos from favourites such as the The Black Knight (complete with detachable limbs) and the shrubbery-demanding ‘Knights who say Ni’.
For all of the plentiful fan service, however, Spamalot’s biggest strength and appeal is in its self-awareness and how it practically revolves around lampooning and parodying the conventions and cliches of musical theatre. Plenty of shows are savvy enough to play on their own artificiality for laughs, but Spamalot offers by far the most confident, integrated and hilarious approach to doing so. To divulge too many specifics would risk spoiling what is a continually surprising and wonderfully energised production that constantly pokes fun at itself and musicals as a whole, as well as a liberal helping of digs and quips at such varied targets as Susan Boyle, Prince Harry’s Vegas indiscretions, the London Olympics, Boris Johnson and even a staggeringly up to date jibe at Bonnie Tyler’s recent Eurovision flop. There is also a substantially broad palette to the comedy employed, from witty repartee and wordplay, visual gags and slapstick, cartoonish violence of the family friendly variety and even of course the ever-reliable fart and French gags. In a packed theatre full of young and old alike, Spamalot offers a continual bombardment of frenzied, varied comedy that offers a giggle or laugh for practically everyone.
Amidst all the mayhem, homage, parody and pop culture referencing, Spamalot frequently allows itself to fly off in bizarre, hilarious tangents and yet never falls prey to the splintered and incoherent messiness of some of the Python’s later output, in particular the likes of And Now For Something Completely Different. Much of this is thanks to Eric Idle’s wonderful book and lyrics which, thanks to some recent re-tweaking since the 2010 tour and this West End revival to bring one or two numbers up to date and more relevant to UK audiences, ensures the production remains fresh and relevant, and certainly not feeling it’s almost 10 year age.
Enormous credit must also go to the current cast, who are in no small way responsible for injecting the show with such infectious energy and joy. Given some of the older and more established names who have donned the King Arthur garments, current Arthur Robin Armstrong acquits himself in the role admirably, offering something of a boyish, endearing charm and naivety to the character where others have offered bombast or pomp, and somewhat grounding the show as a figure of incredulous empathy amidst the madness.
What is most evident from the entire cast is just how much fun is being had, and as mentioned their terrific, sporty turns are the lynchpins amongst the killer rabbits, cheerleading old crones, camelot-cum-vegas shenanigans and the rest of the inspired insanity that inhabits the Spamalot world.
Given the shows age and the now ubiquitous nature of the Monty Python output, there is a strong chance you will be familiar with at least some of what Spamalot offers, but regardless of this the current West End revival offers a great deal to recommend to theatre-going audiences. Those who have yet to see the show will find themselves transported to an irrepressibly hilarious tour-de-force of comedic hijinks, silliness and musical theatre mayhem, and any fans of the industry owe it to themselves to see such a wonderfully original and seminal production. Monty Python fans will find a perfectly judged balance of content old and new, and even those who have seen the show before will find this revival re-energised and well worth a repeat performance thanks to the excellent cast and the new tweaks and additions to the book and numbers. As Idle (and here Burgen) chime, ‘If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing’, and the raucous, side-splitting and delectable theatre-going treat that is Spamalot remains one of the West End’s most original and inimitable opportunities to do precisely that.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
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Press tickets for this performance of Spamalot were provided courtesy of Neil Reading PR. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.