Spamalot @ The King's, Glasgow
England 932AD. We join King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest for The Holy Grail in Monty Python’s Spamalot
There is a terror when someone takes hold of a classic and turns it into a stage play. Especially a classic that has been enjoyed for decades by countless quote-alongers (for what could be more immensely quotable than Python?) The fear pervades that end product will be unsatisfactory commercial trash which fails, both to do justice to the original, and to gain any autonomous artistic credibility. However, it has to be said, that Eric Idle and John Du Prez really deliver with this musicalized update of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
All our favourite jokes and characters are in there: the Knights Who Say Ni, French soldiers who sling relentless taunts at King Arthur, Brave Sir Robin’s less-than-brave retreat, The Black Knight who has each of his limbs severed but insists that it is merely "a flesh wound,” and a verbose, but puerile, account of the relative qualities of African and European Swallows. Even while we can predict many of these popular gags they haven’t lost their edge, in fact the comic timing of the cast is excellent and the script allows for our frame of reference to be spiced with excellent new material, particularly songs like the hilarious 'He is not dead yet,' sung by Not Dead Fred who insists he isn’t for the morgue, despite being slung on a pile of corpses, to a cast of all-dancing backup singers.
Sidestepping the kitsch pitfall of simply boasting a collection of well-known songs from Monty Python’s back catalogue, the score has been rendered with immense competence and sensitivity of purpose, embracing medieval themes, vaudeville and the comic ballad, while the accompanying choreography packs its own comical punch. Almost all of the music is original, although the ever-memorable 'Always look on the bright side of life' is shoehorned in there, and naturally achieves the intended sing-a-long (and whistle-along.)
The usual cross-dressing jests we have come to associate with Monty Python are present, and of course no contemporary musical can get away without some song parodying the tradition of musical theatre. While this may one day become a cliché all of its own which invites pastiche, a formidable use of a cheap trick is made in the excellent Song That Goes Like This, which boasts the refrain:
'Once in every show
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss,
Oh where is the song that goes like this?'
The play takes a dip towards the conclusion of Act I and end is a bit dodgy, making use of a cheesy break of the fourth wall, but we enjoyed our visit to Spamalot, ‘tis a silly place.