Eric Idle’s pension plan continues to tour the country and the world’s most famous boards, this most recent tour shedding some star power with a tight case of reliable West End performers doing their best to breathe some life into horse that may not be dead, merely resting.
This most recent tour, 12 years on from the show’s debut, adds some contemporary-ish pop references but not a lot has changed. There are most of your favourite set-pieces from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a bunch of song-and-dance routines that have varying connections to the source material.
It’s all pulled off very well by the multi-talented cast, some of whom are more like their celluloid counterparts than others, and there’s an accompanying orchestra to provide live music. The set is rather meagre, however, and the translation form the West End has resulted in a decidedly downsized production.
That creates lots of room for Arthur’s band of knights, Lady of the Lake and others to show off their talents, demonstrate plenty of theatrical knowhow and break the fourth wall engagingly, even taking their quest in amongst a delighted audience.
But the musical format works against the narrative and the comedy. Every time Spamalot threatens to gain some momentum out comes another song-and-dance routine, not all of which are particularly funny. So often do the cast embark on another number, in fact, the production resembles a Two Ronnies show more than Python.
None of which would be a problem were it not for the fact that funny material from the film – Bedevere and Galahad are largely missing, as are Terry Gilliam’s animations – has made way for musical elements that aren’t intrinsically funny. They can be admired but when the cast get going with the original material they show the audience what they’re missing.
Moments of irreverence are always welcome: The Song That Goes Like This is a cheeky, witty take on musical archetypes; Sarah Harlington’s Lady of the Lake gets a nice moment on the lack of lady parts and Spamalot journeys into a meta rumination on the genre.
Python fans will not be disappointed and there are many laughs and cheers along the way. But it all feels rather safe: for all that it thumbs its nose at theatrical convention, Spamalot is guilty of indulging in many of them itself. After all, you can’t have your spam and eat it.
Until 4 November