Theatre Review: Spamalot

Posted in Reviews on November, 11 2006 9:41 PM

Starring: Tim Curry, Hannah Waddingham
At: The Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
Date of show: 2nd October 2006

A glorious homage or a horrendous defamation of a classic film its comedy cultural icons?

I think that's been the question lurking in the minds of everyone since the show's opening on Broadway last year. Despite the rave critical reviews, the sell-out run, the copious awards and gushing praises of anyone lucky enough to see it there, many here still nurture their seed of doubt after all, those are praises from Americans for an atypically British art form. Doesn't it imply that if they loved it that much then something must have changed.

I was cynical. I was dubious. I even considered staying away (especially after another passion of mine was defiled in the shape of the Hitch Hiker's film) but curiosity got the better of me. And my credit card.

Engineered by ex-Python Eric Idle should imply a degree of conformity to the old ways. But again, isn't he the one Python who has probably 'sold out' the most to Americanisation and allowed that comic wit to be distilled in the number of puerile films he has appeared? Maybe that's him still sticking to his routes and 'keeping it real.' Maybe he's the only true Python left dedicated to the cause.

The experience begins before even entering the theatre as the posters contain Pythonesque self-derisive witticisms and the boarding above the entrance itself is worth a look alone - if you're in the neighbourhood. If you're feeling peckish while you wait you might be luck to be offered a Spam sandwich by the staff. I think you'd have to be reeeeally hungry, though.

When you get inside you'll be greeted by merchandise stalls (which are on all levels so don't feel obliged to huddle around the first one you see. Remember; this is Python and so there will be no reservations in trying to 'rip you off' at every turn).

The overture starts in a resounding up tempo and 'normal' fashion but doesn't last long as some smart-arse tries to slip the Python theme tune in and everyone relaxes when a resounding gunshot reinstates the status quo.

Yes, it's Python as it should be. Altered slightly for a live, stage production, but Python none-the-less. The script has been enhanced with classic snippets from the series including the Finland song, Always Look On The Bright Side of Life and an aside reference to The Parrot Sketch.

Perhaps and overriding fear was going to be these actors impersonating the Holy Grail characters would ruin the effect. But no, the performances were faultless and delivered straight so it was always the script that carries the laughs.

What makes this show universally acceptable (my wife really enjoyed it) is its production values and songs which have all been created and directed with deft professionalism.

The other thing that takes it beyond being just a 'boy's thing' has to be the inclusion of the new character, The Lady of The Lake, played here by Hannah Waddingham who has a incredibly versatile vocal range and effortless comedic acting abilities. The sideline, token female Python role previously claimed by Carol Cleveland now goes to Waddingham who has been given a part as strong as any of the lads.

The lyrics are as witty as Brooks' The Producers and still laden with classic Python tom-foolery and ridiculousness. In a cultural map based on serious and sullen operatics, it is a refreshing change to find something so completely off the wall yet delivered with as much seriousness and gusto.

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