Following a lovely but incredibly rushed meal at the Mela Tandoori (where owing to their slackness of service, the staff gave Liz a free bottle of wine and let her feel the manager's moustache), I went to the Palace Theatre to go see Spamalot – the musical lovingly ripped off from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. What I hadn't realised at all was that the night I went was the very first London performance ! Neat, huh ?
Like its cinematic progenitor, one things it's not particularly abundant with is a plotline, but inkeeping with the original, it is indeed a very bloody silly piece.
There's many of the old favourites in there, such as the Constitutional Peasants sketch, the dead cart, the discussion of the avian carriage of Cocos Nucifera, the French taunting, the meeting with Tim the Enchanter, the Knights who say Ni!, Launcelot rescuing the damsel from Swamp Castle, and rather impressively, King Arthur's duel with The Black Knight.
Many changes have been put in too, such as the addition of a load of songs and new characters & “plot elements” – Dennis from the Constitutional Peasants sketch gets recruited into Arthur's army as Sir Galahad, Launcelot is the guy pulling the dead cart… and a main character is now The Lady of the Lake (the moistened bint who lobbed the scimitar at Arthur), but more on her in a sec.
As a hardened Python anorak it had me giggling the entire way through: much of the old material was presented well (even the costumes were nearly identical replicas of those in the film), and much of the new material was wonderfully silly. There's one song near the end called “I'm All Alone”, sung by Arthur, with Patsy his “horse” on stage – Arthur's lamenting being alone in life, and Patsy's trying to subtly remind him that he's in fact there with him, until you get to the point of “I'm all alone (oh no you're not!), so all alone (I'm HERE you twat !)”. Another excellent point was “The Song That Goes Like This”, which takes the piss out of overly serious Broadway soundtracks and Lloyd-Webber in particular in a very lyrically and musically clever manner.
A quite satisfying aspect was some of the “low budgetness” of it all – in one scene to illustrate Arthur & Knights travelling across England in search of the grail, two guys came running out onto stage wrapped up carpet-like in a piece of cloth, and then they set themselves up a distance apart then both started rotating clockwise, so that the moving cloth became a scenic backdrop against the party of knights galloping forward.
I suppose the only thing that really got on my tits was the way that it'd been “de-subtle-tised”, in what felt like a fairly pandering move to the Broadway crowds. The thing about Python was that it was always just what it was, and there was never any deliberate playing up to the audience. The example I'm thinking of where this has happened before was in the Live at the Hollywood Bowl concert where they performed the Travel Agents sketch: Carol Cleveland's line was originally the nice & suggestive “Do you want to come upstairs… or have you come to arrange a holiday ?”, which then led to a little embarrassment and the sketch continued without ever making a big deal of it. In the Hollywood Bowl gig though, it was changed to the far more obvious “Have you come to arrange a holiday, or would you like a blowjob ?”. So similarly with Spamalot there were a few things which just felt like they'd been tampered with unnecessarily, not particularly for the better. Lancelot turning out to be gay, for instance – “His name is Lancelot, he loves to dance a lot”. Or the way that they'd made Camelot into a casino, then rubbing in your face that the Round Table was a roulette table. Or the Black Knight, following his quadruple dismemberment, disappears from stage singing “Always look on the bright side of life”. Or the cheerleaders at Camelot, perkily spitting out “K-I-N, G-A-R, T-H-U-R, ARTHUR !”. I hate to sound curmudgeonly (No I don't), but that just ain't Python.
Those things aside, I very much enjoyed the show, due in no small way to the casting – Arthur was played by Tim Curry, in his first West End appearance in many years. He was perfect – not many people could carry off the natural silly pomposity that he does, and aside from being perfectly suited to the role, it was TIM fricken' CURRY ! In person ! Wow.
Lancelot was played by Tom Goodman-Hill, who I'd seen play Peter Cook earlier in the year, and he carried all his Cleesian momets with expert silliness & timing.
Far and away the one who blew me away though was the Lady of the Lake, the vocal powerhouse & statuesque Hannah Waddingham. Holy crap, she's amazing.
That's probably enough about Spamalot. Would definitely see it again.