Review: Spamalot at Manchester Opera House
Who would have thought that dear old Patsy would have third billing in the musical version of Monty Python’s The Holy Grail? Originally a gurning Terry Gilliam in skull cap, sackcloth and face-paint the colour of soil, banging his coconut shells together throughout the entirely of the film, years later Eric Idle turned the movie into a musical and catapulted the unassuming Patsy into a starring role. He even has a song to sing.
Spamalot the musical opened on Broadway in 2005 after Idle tweaked the plot and the best gags of The Holy Grail – a piss-taking version of the Arthurian legend, Camelot, Arthur’s knights and their quest for the Holy Grail. Tim Curry was the original Arthur in both the US and UK runs with the likes of Marcus Brigstocke and Phil Jupitus also taking the role in UK versions.
These Manchester dates are the beginning of a revival of the musical seeing Todd Carty donning Gilliam’s brown shapeless frock as the serf to Joe Pasquale‘s King Arthur. Curtain-up reveals an appropriately gaudy set as a speccy historian places some jokey historical context.
Though Pasquale and Carty take on their respective roles perfectly well there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two and overall the show is a series of highs and, er, not so much lows as pedestrian passages. The cast are all very capable – they know their performance skills but not always their comedy.
Most successful at pulling both off consistently is Sarah Earnshaw as the Lady of the Lake. Her experience in musical theatre means she’s a fine belter of tunes in a variety of styles; self-referentially singing an entire song about her absence on stage in the second half of the show while mugging to the crowd.
But herein lies the clue to any dissatisfaction in the comedy. The Lady of the Lake is a new lead character, a strong woman – Monty Python were famously bad at writing parts for women, something they freely admit themselves – so she has no one to live up to. But for anyone who has seen the original film and Python’s work in general, it’s difficult not to compare the two as you watch.
Which is why, to a Python fan’s eye, the result dips and flows. In some places the scenes are near perfect. The French castle scene is hilariously cartoonish, perfectly choreographed and lines are delivered worthy of any of the Pythons. So is Herbert, the decidedly camp prince who just wants to sing! However the Knights who say Ni scene is delivered too straight and consequently loses some of its absurdist and slightly sinister comedy.
Pasquale as Arthur is at his most animated when ad-libbing, making the cast laugh or corpsing himself. But within the confines of his scripted role he’s lacking in the comedic energies present in his stand-up.
Elsewhere there’s much fun to be had with the cameo appearance by celebs playing God. Here a certain particle physicist is particularly enjoyable, irritably admonishing Arthur and humankind as a whole.
There are some moments of comedic brilliance replicated here, so it seems best is to forget where it came from and take it for what it is. Go along for the ride, it’s a fun one, not to mention one sound-tracked by the clacking of coconut shells.
Tickets for Spamalot at Manchester Opera House are available to buy here: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/spamalot-2/opera-house-manchester/
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