Playhouse Theatre, London
After a brief dive into surreal songstry, Eric Idle’s Spamalot opens on solid ground for Holy Grail fanatics, with an infinitely quotable argument about coconuts and unladen swallows.
It’s the first of many faithful renditions of Grail sketches, and almost all of our favourite moments from Monty Python’s madcap movie were showcased at some point in the musical’s two-hour running time.
However, Spamalot’s script doesn’t merely reproduce a bunch of Grail content in a simple and lazy fashion. You’ll find that classic skits such as the Black Knight and the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ are presented in a slightly tweaked way that makes them feel surprisingly fresh, and it’s a delight to see them unfurl on stage. The Black Knight losing his limbs is a particularly snort-worthy mechanism (only Python can make brutal mutilation so hilarious). Many familiar sketches also take an unexpected swerve into disturbingly catchy musical numbers, some well known (“We’re knights of the round table, our shows are for-mid-able”) and some specially crafted for this show.
Mr Idle has even included a couple of classic Monty Python sketches found outside of Holy Grail, including a bit of Finland/fish slapping and one of Python’s most iconic tunes. A bit of topical humour is also thrown in (including a well-timed dig at ex-Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio), highlighting that the script is being constantly refreshed, while a spot of Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ ad-lib had the cast cracking up, to the delight of the audience.
We aren’t kidding when we say that Spamalot’s songs are catchy. The new tunes may not linger in memory like classic Python verses, but they’ll slap a huge grin on your face, especially when they break the fourth wall and rip the piss out of other West End musicals. Each song is accompanied by a bevy of flailing dance moves which are often just as hilarious, and it’s clear that the cast are massively enjoying their time up on stage.
Performances are all-round excellent. The entire cast, from the insult-hurling Frenchmen to the mighty and mightily mad Tim, attack their roles with just the right level of pomposity and excessive winking. The current run stars Les Dennis as King Arthur and new recruit Warwick Davis (of Willow, Leprechaun and Life’s Too Short fame) as his humble servant Patsy, and it’s an odd duo that works very well indeed.
Dennis’ Arthur is a very different character to the one portrayed by Graham Chapman on-screen. While Chapman was austere, self-assured and at times downright desperate to accomplish his quest at any cost, spewing outrage at every obstacle he faced, Dennis plays a more panto version of the mythical king. It’s a performance perfectly suited to this stage version, and Dennis’ relish at delivering each golden line gets the audience right on his side.
Meanwhile, Warwick finds just the right level of beleaguered for his Patsy performance, nailing the eye-rolls and grimaces while loyally humping around Arthur’s excessive baggage. It’s a shame his part isn’t larger, but he’s a joy to watch and hits all the right notes, despite his admission that he shouldn’t ever audition for the X Factor. Frankly, we’d rather watch him belt out a tune than half of the bland blancmanges on that bloody show.
We also have to give a shout-out to Bonnie Langford, who is marvellous as our favourite watery tart, the Lady of the Lake. She certainly hasn’t lost any of her star value, and her demands to be given more stage time in the second half were met with rapturous applause.
If you still haven’t seen Spamalot after all these years, you owe it to yourself to check out the next available performance. Warwick is only around until 19 October, and we’d highly recommend catching him before he heads off for whatever Ricky Gervais vehicle awaits.