Some people must think Monty Python IS Spamalot. This show has a life of its own which surely puts it in danger of outlasting the flying circus from which it was born. It always seems to be on tour and, as King Arthur himself sings, “Spamalot is done by Am Dram a lot.” Doing the cunning thing and making it a period piece avoids any obvious signs of ageing. But Spamalot remains fresh and funny anyway.
This production is not lavish – just four in the band and a cast of 11. But somehow that’s, at least partly, the point. The Python film on which it is based (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) was famously made on a shoestring. The tight budget is the reason we now have the iconic coconuts instead of actual horses. But the cast more than make up for any scrimping on the set, with huge and energy-filled performances. Whether recreating some classic scenes such as The Knights Who Like to Say Ni (greeted with cheers of recognition by many in the audience) or powering through some of the numerous and catchy new musical numbers, they all give their all.
There are, of course, plenty of famous Python lines to enjoy. Particularly effective was the scene when Arthur is insulted by the French guards (“I fart in your general direction!”). But there are also enough musical theatre in-jokes to shake a stick at, with Andrew Lloyd Webber coming in for most of the lampooning.
Director Daniel Buckroyd has really done a great job, packing in all the Python references whilst mining all the physical comedy he can. Bob Harms’s King Arthur is delightfully by turns bemused and wearied by the characters he encounters during his quest for the Holy Grail. Sarah Harlington has the required musical chops to do a knockout job with the big sing of The Lady of the Lake. Rhys Owen is Patsy, probably the only character who really knows what’s going on. He also gets the magic moment of ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’ – although with the entire audience joining in from the first line it’s hard for him to claim his moment! Jonathan Tweedie is a charismatic Sir Lancelot…but I can’t list all the cast here. All I can say again is that they bring huge energy and enthusiasm to the show and win the audience over in the process.
I was worried that, having enjoyed and perhaps revered Python in its original forms, Spamalot would somehow be a simple cash-in. Rest assured it’s not. This is a proper musical that’s also seriously funny.
On until Saturday 28 April 2018 at Dartford Orchard Theatre.