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Monty Python's Spamalot
Member Name: IainWear
Monty Python's Spamalot
Date: 17/01/07, updated on 18/01/07 (1676 review reads)
Advantages: It's the funniest thing I've seen
Disadvantages: Slows down a little in Act 2
With "Spamalot", the fun starts before you even get there. Knowing that it's a Monty Python musical, at least for the most part, sets the anticipation up a notch, as do all the quotes on the posters you see all over the Tube (assuming you're a Londoner) and on the internet and everywhere even if you're not. If you've ever seen the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", you have an idea of what to expect as well, and that seemingly assures you of a good time.
The problem with having this much anticipation is that you can be badly let down. It's happened to me before, but it certainly didn't this time. Even from the outside, you're ready for fun, with the theatre decorated in Monty Python style; the cartoon pictures of King Arthur matching those from the films and some amusing mock advertising slogans.
Even the concessions are in on the joke; next to fairly standard fare, such as programmes and t-shirts, you can buy killer rabbit puppets, stress cows, or a Black Knight doll with removable arms and legs and Spam. If one look at the price list of "Ye Olde Rippey Offey Shoppe", as it has been renamed does not make you laugh, then you're possibly at the wrong show. If seeing a catapult kit which flings cows on sale for £17.50 makes you think "should I buy one or two?" instead of "HOW much?" then you're virtually guaranteed a fun night.
The show advertises itself as “a musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’” and this is obvious from the opening scene with the historian; although fans of the film will be totally thrown by “Finland”, which immediately follows. The basic story of “Spamalot” follows the storyline of the film; in that King Arthur collects a group of Knights and goes hunting for the Holy Grail, running into the Black Knight, a bunch of French Knights and the Knights of Ni along the way.
For those who are already fans of the film, all this will be familiar, although the way he finds the Knights of the Round Table is a little different. However, there are parts which will be new to people who aren’t already fans of the Pythons but like the film, with a couple of more “traditional” Monty Python bits thrown in. Most of the songs were especially written for “Spamalot”, so will be new to everyone and there are who new characters, such as the Lady of the Lake, meaning that even the most casual of fans can watch on a level pegging and that you don’t need to be a Python fan to see “Spamalot”, although being so will help you know what to expect.
That’s assuming you ever know what to expect with something involving Monty Python and in “Spamalot”, you mostly won’t. There’s a wonderful mix of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and more modern ideas, including the cheerleaders and gay marriage and with a number of the songs being a little self mocking. But there are also visual gags thrown in, some in the middle of songs, some cameos from Monty Python – not all of them songs or sketches - and you need to be watching the whole of the stage all the time as there can be bits happening all over the place, often at once.
The costumes aren’t really anything special, with most of the characters being either knights or their servants and being dressed appropriately. The Lady of the Lake and the Laker Girls do get some interesting costumes, especially right towards the end and the costumes for Sir Lancelot’s big number late in the show are certainly eye catching. That said, they do make a great attempt at emulating a couple of the trickier scenes from the film, where the Black Knight loses his limbs and a knight has their head torn off by the Killer Rabbit and whilst it does look a little cheap and dodgy, it’s the best you could do and many stage shows would have glossed over those parts. For all their lack of show, for the most part, you wouldn’t fault the costumes in any way, as they do fit in perfectly.
The scenery and props are far more impressive, with virtually every kind of medium being used. There are parts projected onto screens, God coming down from the skies and a cow launched from a catapult. Admittedly, many of the projections are Monty Python style cartoons and some of the scenery is used for some awful jokes, but there is no doubting that the dark and very expensive forest is exactly that. There are castles to either side of the stage, allowing soldiers to stand in windows and shout down to King Arthur and at the back, the French knights were able to stand on their own battlements and taunt the English.
The cast perform wonderfully. The West End cast doesn’t have the same number of stars as the original Broadway version, and I was lucky enough to see Tim Curry as King Arthur at the end of his run. But everyone is wonderfully cast and in the case of some of the knights, you can recognise the original Monty Pythons in them from the film. The voice of God is a huge surprise, but one that fans of Monty Python will welcome with open arms. Tim Curry was certainly up to the part, although he did seem to have a mid-Atlantic accent, as did Sir Galahad’s, although neither of them sounded as bad as Kevin Costner in “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” at any point.
The cast do seem to work very well together. At the performance we saw, we were treated to the rare sight of a leading actor “corpsing” (breaking into laughter) on stage. During the Knights of Ni scene, they managed to make Tim Curry laugh, which I suspect is possibly something they try quite regularly and I was lucky enough to be there the night it worked. It was wonderful to see a cast so relaxed with each other that they could have that kind of fun. In addition, special mention needs to be made for Hannah Waddingham as the Lady of the Lake. Her part is possibly the trickiest musically, as the songs she gets take her through virtually every style of music and singing, many of them in parody, and she performed them all wonderfully.
Oh yes, the songs. After all, “Spamalot” is a musical and this is what it’s all about. I enjoyed them so much that I promptly bought the CD of the original Broadway Cast and it’s been on my CD player ever since. At some point in one of the songs, it’s likely that your favourite genre is going to be featured or mocked, with songs verging from pop through show numbers to a jazz moment. There are some songs which are there only to appeal to Python fans, with some like “Brave Sir Robin” carrying over from the film version and others like “Finland” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” taken from other parts of the Monty Python’s repertoire. Sadly, it is this latter which proves one of the more disappointing numbers, as it does feel a little as if they’ve forced it in to appeal to the fans, rather than because it works within the show and it does lose a lot of the irony when not being sung by men being painfully and slowly killed. The chant that borrows from “The Lumberjack Song” works completely, though, as well as being more of a surprise.
For me, it’s the songs that were specially written for “Spamalot” which prove to be the greatest successes. There are some parts of the film that you wouldn’t expect a song to be made from, which makes “I Am Not Dead Yet” a bit of a shock, as well as it being a jaunty catchy tune which is the one I keep finding myself humming. Of the others, the self referential “The Song That Goes Like This” is a big show tune that itself mocks big show tunes is possibly the best, although “You Won’t Succeed” is another huge number in a similar vein and “Diva’s Lament”, which pretty much mocks the writing of the show itself (and which isn’t the only part to do so), is great as well. “Find Your Grail” reminds me a little of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “His Name is Lancelot” owes much to “Copacabana”, but they’re fun little numbers, as are most of the songs.
The songs in Act 1 are the strongest, although that’s pretty much true of the whole show. The laughs come so thick and fast for the first act, whether they come from the song lyrics or the script, that when the interval came after 50 minutes, I’d been laughing so much, I was sure we’d been there for longer. Act 2 is not as full on and slows the pace down a little, although it would have been hard to keep up a frantic pace like that, anyway.
This is one of those shows that does the big things very well, ensuring that the basis of the show is right, and then manages to add those little touches that delight and just add value to the show. Adding in bits from the film which could easily have been left out, like the Black Knight losing all his limbs, the voice of God and “Sir Not Appearing in This Show” provided nice touches and delighted the Monty Python fans. Having things happening all over the stage during some of the set pieces, like the reaction to the commoners in the corner of the stage to the Lady in the Lake’s costume and the bale of “Hey!” in the middle of “You Won’t Succeed” are a little corny, but hilarious additions which many wouldn’t have thought of. It’s also a show that is not afraid to laugh at itself, mocking its’ own foibles and drawing attention to its own mishaps, such as Tim the Enchanter’s flying “skills”. In this respect and that even the songs join in the mockery, it does remind me a little of “Team America: World Police” in attitude, if not in substance.
If you’ve even thought Monty Python was funny, this is a show you cannot afford to miss. The more of a fan you are, the more important it is that you see “Spamalot” as soon as humanely possible. Similarly to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, it is a story that has changed slightly with the new medium, but has been no less funny for it. Admittedly, there are bits that don’t work quite as well as others, but for the most part it’s the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life – and I have to look in the mirror! If you’re not a Monty Python fan, or hated them, this is something you should avoid as it will do very little to change your mind if you’re that certain about it. If you don’t know what Monty Python is or know very little about “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, much of the show and many of the jokes may be lost of you and you’ll be bemused by some of the little things many in the audience will be laughing at, but I suspect you’ll still be largely amused.
This may not be the best show for children, as there is a bit of swearing involved, although not too much. The website does suggest that children as young as 8 could enjoy it, although they do recommend caution in parts, so "Spamalot" should perhaps be considered PG in cinema terms.
“Spamalot” is currently booking until July 2007 at the Palace Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, which isn’t too far to walk from either Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. It’s a decent looking theatre, with comfortable seating, although I can't comment on how suitable it may be for the disabled. When booking tickets, it’s worth paying the extra money for the expensive tickets. We were in the stalls in Rows O and P and from there, you can just about see all the stage, right up to the top, where there are things happening. Any further back than that and you risk missing parts of the fun. I can’t speak for the view from any other part of the theatre.
The tickets we bought were £58.00 including the booking fee and worth every penny. If I had that kind of money, I would quite happily go back and see it again. I’ve already been out to get the soundtrack CD and should there ever be ant kind of DVD release, I shall have a copy of that and probably watch it often enough to wear it out. Going to the theatre in London is an expensive business these days, no matter where you go, but it is rarely this funny or this unmissable. If you want to laugh a lot, get yourself to “Spamalot”.
Summary: The musical lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
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