The new touring production of Spamalot opened at the Liverpool Empire – and received a well-deserved standing ovation for its troubles.
The charm of Spamalot is pretty deceptive. The Eric Idle-approved UK touring version (he appears via film) of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is very funny, very daft, unbelievable fun – and makes the undertaking look as easy as pie. Smaller scale and deliberately stripped down from the much loved West End version, it works well, with lots of multi-tasking for the energetic supporting cast so reminiscent of the Python’s own silly ways.
The classic scenes from the film are pulled off with aplomb, telling the story of the hapless King Arthur as he gathers his Knights of the Round Table, meeting foes on the way including the Knights Who Say Ni and a particularly unpleasant little rabbit. It’s messing with a tried and tested hit – and if anything element of this production wasn’t right, Spamalot would fail from the off. Fortunately, it could be the funniest show that has ever made it onto the Empire stage.
Marcus Brigstocke is endearing in the role of King Arthur, playing the role as a normal(ish), posh bloke and deliberately playing down any OTT Tim Curry style projection (something he has said he was so aware of, he had to stop resorting to the Broadway version as a guide).
I’d Do Anything star Jodie Prenger is in her element (no pun intended) as the Lady in the Lake. Camp, curvaceous, and utterly captivating, her over the top, diva-ish portrayal is an absolute winner. Her comic turn, while belting out some complicated notes, looks pleasingly effortless and was so good I wouldn’t hesitate to see her in future shows. Former EastEnders man Todd Carty is sweet and understated as Patsy the manservant, but gets the limelight to lead Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – from Life of Brian rather than the original Holy Grail, but it fits well enough and is a shoe-in for a singalong reprise, so why not?
Eric Idle and co-writer John du Prez playfully mock the art form they’re exploiting – why let traditional musical theatre schmaltz ruin classic comedy – with numbers like The Song That Goes Like This (a knowing clichéd ballad for romantic scenarios) taking their place alongside favourite ditties from the film like Brave Sir Robin and, of course, Knights of the Round Table. The low key nature of the touring production hasn’t worked for everyone, but tonight’s audience were less your musical theatre people and more dyed-in-the-wool Python fans. And this was for them – pure panto the audience just loved. The laughs were loud and constant. Some songs like You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz have presumably been rejigged for a UK audience (so up to date that even Jedward became the butt of a joke), there was a small amount of corpsing that only added to the atmosphere, and most people in the stalls were up on their feet for a really appreciative ovation at the end, utterly exceeding all expectation.
See Spamalot while you can, at the Empire until August 14.