Having fond memories of the original Monty Python television show, I was expecting a lot from this show to begin with and was curious to see if this stage work captured any of the spirit of those early years...it does so in the odd line or two, but is a pale shadow for me of the Monty Python humour that I have come to love over the years.
In all fairness, this multi award winning show (it has been running since 2004) is based around the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", not the TV show, and I have to admit that I have not seen the film (just those never ending snippets that you get on re-run shows). For me, the early television shows were the best media for this type of humour as the short sketch format allowed for an idea to be developed without expanding it time-wise until it simply stopped being funny. The films and the stage show both suffer from this curse.
The plot (if there ever is a plot with Monty Python) is fairly simple. King Arthur must gather up his Knights and find the Holy Grail. Of course along the way he has a few silly adventures.
Our principal cast tonight are King Arthur (Joe Pasquale), The Lady of The Lake (Sarah Earnshaw), Patsy (Todd Carty), Sir Robin (Will Hawksworth), Prince Herbert (Richard Kent), Sir Dennis Galahad (Richard Meek), Sir Bedevere (Josh Wilmott). Many of the cast play multiple parts in the show and I am not listing them all here.
As King Arthur, Joe Pasquale seems a bit of an odd choice, but making Arthur the opposite of what most people would imagine him to look and sound like is pretty much what you would expect the Pythons to do, so maybe the casting is perfect. From where I was sitting though it was difficult to make out some of what Joe was saying and I did miss some of the dialogue. Joe also has more than enough "stand up comedian" stage experiences to roll along with the little mishaps that will undoubtedly occur on a stageshow of this format.
Sarah Earnshaw certainly has a diverse vocal range and has to put that range to use covering a wide range of songs and styles in parody. Many of the songs are gentle homages to stage and film musicals of days gone by, but for some reason they do not work that well for me.
If there is a song that gives this show a firm anchor, it is "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life". A good well known sing-along song (and they do give you the words just in case you have forgotten them) is essential to a show like this.
There are elements from the television shows that I do recognise on stage, and even from the clips I have seen of it over the years, I recognise the riding a pretend horse while someone walks behind you making the horse hoof sounds with coconuts parts. The trouble is (like many things in the show) that repeating this sketch for an entire show stops it being funny. Some of the humour also depends on making fun of national stereotypes and much of that humour is now simply outdated and ceased to be funny a long time ago.
As you have probably guessed, this was not one of my favourite shows, and the feel of it was pretty much that of a traditional pantomime. To be fair though, many of the audience seemed to be having a fine old time at the theatre and were obviously finding it very funny. I went to see this show on the recommendation of a friend who had seen the show before and thought it hilarious, so I think this show is, as is always the case with Monty Python humour, in the eye of the beholder.
With Spamalot, Monty Python do seem to be carrying that tradition of irreverent humour set by people like The Crazy Gang, The Goons, and of course themselves into the 21st century. Maybe that is the key to the show here...perhaps its humour always needs to be viewed with a new audience discovering it for the first time and not someone who remembers much of it the first time round.
Review by Tom King