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Spamalot review

Philip Key is tickled gently at the Liverpool Empire

Published on August 16th 2010.


Spamalot review

You may recall that in the original Monty Python series, the late Graham Chapman used to wander into a sketch dressed in military uniform and complain: “Stop this – it is getting far too silly!”

I half expected the character to turn up in Spamalot, Eric Idle’s stage musical version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.Silliness is, of course, what Python was all about and in Spamalot it is applied with a trowel – perhaps a little too much.

Humour is a very personal thing and I must admit a couple next to me were howling with laughter for much of the time when I could manage only a slight titter.This is, by the way, the touring version of the show, cut down from the excesses of Broadway and the West End to a more portable size.

At the Empire, that meant that the set was too small for the wide stage and thus the sides were curtained off. Nothing to get too worried about but it did show up the cut-price single set (basically a bit of a castle and some trees) and gave the whole evening a pantomime feel.

The film too was beset by financial economies which meant there was not enough money for horses and so the cast used coconuts to supply the sound of horses’s hooves and walked everywhere - silly but comically effective and naturally used here.

The film was and the stage show is a spoof on the stories of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table but Idle’s musical also manages to poke fun at stage musicals in general and Lloyd Webber ones in particular.

Many of the gags and situations from the film are repeated, the plague victim who refuses to die, the argumentative serfs, the knights who say “Ni”, the Black Knight who keeps fighting despite the loss of his limbs, the killer rabbit and so on.

Some of these are met by cheers of recognition but sometimes a joke or sketch once heard loses some of its humour second or third time around.

To give Idle his credit – and he wrote the musical with composer John Du Prez – he keeps thing moving at a fast lick, so much so that the show runs for just two hours including interval.

His songs are pretty good too, particularly the ones that ape classic musical songs like ‘The Song That Goes Like This’, ‘The Diva’s Lament’ and ‘You Won’t Succeed in Liverpool Without a Star’ (the lyrics to which are changed depending on where the show is appearing).

Adding her own star quality to the musical side is Jodie Prenger, the winner of the TV talent show I’d Do Anything who landed the West End role of Nancy in Oliver as a result. She can really belt it out and has the personality to back up the big vocals. She also does a mean impersonation of Shirley Bassey.

Marcus Brigstocke must be the only actor to have played King Arthur in spectacles but that’s all part of the silliness in a role originally created on film by Graham Chapman.

Brigstocke has the height and voice to carry off what is the nearest to a serious part in the whole show, that is he tries to be serious in an increasingly crazy world.Todd Carty (Grange Hill, EastEnders, etc) has little to say as Patsy, Arthur’s sidekick, apart from acting stupid and singing a bit. He does it well.

Among the small but hard-working cast (they each perform a number of roles), one standout was David Langham, a lanky chap with a large nose who managed to extract comedy from all his four roles and most notably the effete Prince Herbert whose pursed lip expressions were a joy to behold.

Oh, and Eric idle makes a cameo appearance on film as God in a declamatory and boldly humorous fashion.

The music is well played, so much so that I originally thought it was on tape but at different times in the evening a curtain lifts to reveal real musicians bashing away at their instruments.

The pantomime mood of the set eventually takes over the show itself with a member of the audience called on stage having discovered the Holy Grail beneath his seat and a lyric sheet lowered on stage so everyone can join in the show’s best-known number, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, originally heard in a very different context in the film The Life of Brian.

Liverpool’s own showbiz football chairman Bill Kenwright co-produced the show directed by Christopher Luscombe and he must have been pleased by the standing ovation it received in his home city. For me, sadly, it was only mildly amusing.

7/10

*Spamalot runs at the Empire until August 14

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TourmanAugust 10th 2010.

I agree with CuleBlue the cost was excessive for a seat and the Empire was half empty on Wednesday, you are not telling me people stayed at home to watch an England friendly. I an very choosy about what I see because of the cost. Good show very very funny

CuleBlueAugust 10th 2010.

I'm far from the world's biggest Python fan, but I enjoyed the random silliness. Perhaps what I will recall most from the evening is the number of empty seats. This is the 3rd time running I've been in a half empty Empire. Somebody needs to change the prices! Next time, i'll buy the cheapest seats and move forward.

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