Harold Pinter Theatre, London
A stripped-down version of the original show, Spamalot is back in the West End in a smaller venue than previously – leaving behind the Shaftesbury Theatre for the Pinter Theatre (previously the Comedy Theatre).
Still “lovingly ripped off” from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the new version Spamalot is more like a revue show than a fully-realised musical and as such isn’t going to appeal to everyone.
Some folk will find the musical too flimsy and nonsensical, but that’s kind of the point. Indeed, some of the elements that have nothing to do with the plot are some of the best in the show (Finland! and You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz)
Nonetheless, even hardened fans are going to find it hard to be completely enamoured. Like the film that spawned it, Spamalot’s story descends into meta nothingness, and that’s a disappointment when viewed through the lens of musical theatre.
However, place your pantomime spectacles on, and it makes perfect sense, because Spamalot is panto in camouflage . self-referential songs, fourth wall ignored, up-to-the minute topical gags, slapstick, slightly rude but not too rude, celebrities… it’s all there.
By looking at the show like this, some of the tired old jokes seem slightly less tired and old and more like deliberate nostalgia. It doesn’t always work though. The rude French soldier is only really funny when John Cleese does it, and some parts are just too… theatrey. Kids’ TV presenter-style acting from some of the supporting cast is distracting, while the Knights who Say Ni are trying far to hard to be zany, rather than letting the inherent daftness do the work for them.
But don’t be put off, this is still a very, very funny show, with a strong cast. The celebrity casting works well, with Marcus Brigstocke getting King Arthur’s balance of domineering and bumbling just right and Todd Carty making the most of a part with few lines. The big star at the end of this show, however, is Bonnie Langford. Playing the Lady of the Lake, Langford’s voice is incredible and she has superb comedy timing.
Another plus point; the show zips by. Clocking in at just two hours including the interval, Spamalot is one of the few productions in the West End that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Non-Python fans or people who haven’t seen the Holy Grail may be confused by what seems like a string of tenuously-connected sketches, but for the rest of us, it’s still very, very good fun.
Spamalot plays at the Pinter Theatre until September 9, before moving to The Playhouse Theatre from 14 November. Tickets are available from www.spamalot2012.co.uk