Arthurian legend is playfully reimagined in this new staging of Spamalot, the musical written by Eric Idle, based on the much-loved classic film Monty Python & The Holy Grail.
A bookish narrator sets the scene for us; medieval England, with plague to the North and to the South. King Arthur and his squire, Patsy, are on a mission to find the bravest men in all the land to sit at his Round Table. After recruiting Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot, Arthur runs into some trouble with Sir Galahad, a socialist radical who doesn’t believe that Arthur’s anointment by the mystical Lady of the Lake grants him any legitimacy as monarch.
“Strange ladies lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!” He declares. But he is soon convinced, with a little help from the Lady’s cheerleaders, the Laker Girls. And then it’s off to Camelot they all go, for a “Viva Las Vegas”-style number, before embarking on their sacred quest to find the Holy Grail.
So much of the show’s humour lies in its use of language, be it puns, misunderstandings, or double entendres; only somebody truly clever could write something this endearingly silly. And every member of the cast is clearly having tremendous fun. Bob Harms is suitably self-important as King Arthur, while Rhys Owen provides plenty of physical comedy as his squire. One of the most memorable comedic touches from the film is recreated on-stage here; in lieu of riding on real horses, Arthur gallops around followed by Patsy, who clip-clops a pair of coconuts together.
Sarah Harlington is on scene-stealing form as the Lady of the Lake, a glittery, ethereal and ludicrously bewigged Kate Bush-esque diva who bemoans her lack of involvement in the plot in “Whatever Happened To My Part?” Norton James’ transition from earthy Marxist to “proper-speaking” knight Galahad is entertaining to watch, as is Stephen Arden’s cowardly, musical-loving Sir Robin.
Special mentions must go to Jonathan Tweedie as Sir Lancelot and Matthew Pennington as Prince Herbert, whose scenes together in Act II upend our expectations of the “knight rescuing a damsel in distress” courtly love narrative and deliver something altogether more fun. Even female ensemble Grace Eccle and Gleanne Purcell Brown find moments to shine in their background roles, from Camelot showgirls to wood nymphs.
The musical numbers all wear their influences on their sleeves; “The Song That Goes Likes This” is an Andrew Lloyd Weber homage which veers almost into Meat Loaf and Patti Russo power ballad territory, complete with melodramatic, pre-Raphaelite staging. “You Won’t Succeed In Showbiz” is a nod and a wink to Broadway shows like The Producers, and the disco number “His Name Is Lancelot” might as well have been lifted from an alternative version of The Boy From Oz.
But that’s half the fun in going to see a Monty Python musical; spotting all of the different references to their own work and that of others, from the obvious to the obscure. Anyone who has seen the original film will smile when they see the killer bunny, or the Knights who say “Ni!” And even if you’re entirely unfamiliar with the comic legacy of Monty Python, you’ll still probably find yourself tapping your foot along to “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.”
Spamalot runs at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday. Get your tickets here!