Spamalot @ The Lyceum, September 7.
King Arthur and his loyal steed, Patsy, ride the lands of Finland England with a pair of coconuts, a bunch of jokey characters and a merciless barrage of jokes, some of them skewering musical sensibilities. Oh, and they are on a mission from God to find a cup.
Can’t they go to Ikea? They can get a dozen for a tenner.
Anyways, while on their quest for a flagon (with the dragon that holds the brew that is true), they encounter God (who doesn’t like the psalms), Knights with detachable parts, anachronistic humour and fluffy terrors.
Off the bat, if you expect a complete, loyal adaptation from the cult classic film, you’re in for a disappointment. This musical changes from the film in a form similar to the form Douglas Adams used to tinker with his own cult classic.
Does it work? Yes, a thousand spammy times yes. Whereas the film made fun of epics (and to this date, still the best film adaptation of the King Arthur Mythology) and their clichés, Spamalot goes bunny for the jugular of musicals while still being a collection of some great moments from the film, pressed together with some witty remarks about social classes, religion, social media (first musical I attend with a joke about Twitter) and the minutiae of science.
More humour? Sure! Riffs on the obligatory romantic song (‘The song that goes like this’), dance extravaganzas, audiences and Andrew Lloyd Webber are peppered, sometimes less subtle than in other times (all about ‘I’m all alone’). Add to that some serious fourth wall breaking, and you’re in for a very funny time.
The adaptation of the show for an British audience is excellent. Not only from film to musical, but also from venue to venue. Several in-jokes about Sheffield were seamless fit in ‘You won’t succeed in Broadway’. Even some jokes about current British pop culture are offered and you feel you’re being tested for your knowledge of trashy singers.
The strengths of Spamalot are several, but if pressured to point out which ones are the best, well:
1) The off-kilter, silly (but not so) humour that could only come from someone from Monty Python.
2) A freedom for actors to adlib. This can also help for line flubbing caused by the actors corpsing. It’s probably near impossible not to laugh every time the audience roars.
5 3) A massive amount of jokes that require your attention. Although some of the humour is as subtle as a haddock in your face, there are very little details that are so subtle you might only notice them when everyone else is laughing.
The writing by Eric Idle (arguably the most musical inclined of the Pythons) and John DuPrez is great. Sure, they reuse some oldies but goodies, but if you cannibalise yourself to make your writing even funnier, it isn’t really that bad. All the cast members did an excellent job and I can’t find any more words to stress this enough, so if you don’t believe, then, ni.
Again, there are some changes for the locals (Sean Bean, Ozzy!) but if any change was really strange was the lyrics change for ‘You won’t succeed in Broadway Sheffield’. My guess it would be that it might be a hard sell to use the original lyrics, but the different jokes (Peter Stringellow, Def Leppard) more than make for any changes, so it’s no biggee. So tit for tat.
Overall, it’s a great show with quick witted cast (all about the adlibbing) and a very cool cameo.
About the author: My favourite Python sketch is a toss up between Biggles dictates a letter, The Bishop and The Sci Fi Sketch. No, wait, the old ladies and Sartre. No, wait, the exploding penguin.