Drama | Comedy | MUSICAL | Fringe | Archive | HOME


Follow @theatreguidelon

Download an eBook today

 The Theatreguide.London Review

Palace Theatre 2006 - 2009; Pinter Theatre 2012; Playhouse Theatre 2012-2014

[The 2012 revival was a revised touring version with some songs cut and others added.]

They really can do this sort of thing better on Broadway than anywhere else.

'This sort of thing' is a big brassy musical comedy, and it's true even if 'they' are mainly British.

Eric Idle (book, music, lyrics) and John Du Prez (music) have adapted that very silly movie Monty Python And The Holy Grail, and American Mike Nichols has directed it.

The result is bright, tuneful and anything-goes funny in the mode of The Producers or Avenue Q, and take-no-prisoners big and brassy like Chicago or Wicked.

It is, in short, just about all you could ask from a musical comedy, and only the most dedicated Pythonophobes could resist it.

For the uninitiated, the 1975 film by and starring the Python crew was a gag-filled parody of the King Arthur tales, the search for the Holy Grail leading Arthur and his knights into a string of self-contained comic sketches.

Idle has included most of the touchstone sequences - the insulting Frenchman, the Knights who say Ni, the prince in the tower - and actually tightened up the structure a bit.

The peasant bringing out his not-quite-dead relative becomes Sir Lancelot, the bolshie peasant grows up to become Galahad, and the Lady of the Lake keeps reappearing throughout the show.

At the same time he keeps breaking the illusion in totally Pythonesque ways, opening (for no particular reason) with a Finnish song and dance, having the Lady of the Lake interrupt things to complain in song that she's been offstage too long, and pausing to consider whether the show has much of a chance since there are no Jewish characters in it

(You just know that Mel Brooks is kicking himself for not thinking of a lyric like 'There's a very small percentile/That enjoys a dancing gentile').

The songs are not especially memorable, except for that one borrowed from the end of The Life Of Brian, that the audience spontaneously sings and whistles along with. But they're big and brassy and full of in-jokes.

The big love duet, The Song That Goes Like This, is openly a parody of Andrew L W and the Lady of the Lake's attendants (the Laker Girls) turn into a cheerleader squad.

Find Your Grail has a country flavour; I'm Not Dead Yet is a song-and-dance for the plague victims, and there are passing musical references to Fiddler On The Roof, Company, West Side Story and Barry Manilow.

(Indeed, in its every-song-a-different-style eclecticism, the score sometimes reminds you of ALW's Joseph)

Mike Nichols directs with exactly the right combination of polish and silliness.

The Lady of the Lake's appearance turns into a Busby Berkeley number, Camelot looks disconcertingly like an actual Las Vegas hotel, the French attack Arthur with can-can dancers and mimes, and Lancelot discovers his true (sexual) identity in a flamboyant disco number. Tim Hatley's design openly salutes Terry Gilliam's Python cartoons

Tim Curry is the nominal star as Arthur (to be replaced after two months by Simon Russell Beale) and he is first-rate, though his real contribution is as a solid core the others can bounce off, and he serves primarily as straight man and feed.

You'll come away most enamoured of Hannah Waddingham as the divinely sexy Lady but also remember the others who took their turns stealing the spotlight - David Birrell as Patsy (he of the coconut horsehooves), Darren Southworth as Not Dead Fred and Prince Herbert, Tom Goodman-Hill as Lancelot - and the generally infectious ridiculousness of it all.

Gerald Berkowitz

Receive alerts when we post new reviews

Return to Theatreguide.London home page

Save on your hotel - www.hotelscombined.com
Review of  Spamalot - Palace Theatre 2006