King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 30 September 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The Mercury Theatre, Colchester’s touring version of Monty Python’s Spamalot for Selladoor Productions is consistently funny and may just be the best version of the show to have come to Edinburgh.
One of the songs written by Eric Idle and John du Prez for their reworked version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail insists that – on this side of the Atlantic at least – a musical without a marquee name is bound to fail. This production very definitely shows that to be a lie. Some of the later incarnations of the original Spamalot did appear to cast their King Arthur with an eye on the box office. By the end – although always funny – the outcome could be somewhat unbalanced and a little tired.
This version is undeniably fresh and inventive, and as a result is constantly cheering. A prime example is the aforementioned You Won’t Succeed In Showbiz, discharged here with verve and nerve by Stephen Arden as the not-so-brave Sir Robin, featuring some clever updating and a cheeky homage to Sally Bowles.
Director Daniel Buckroyd injects the rest of the show with the same freshness and energy. There are moments that are certainly close to the film, but few who have seen the celluloid Knights Who Say Ni or the French Taunter would be able to perform those lines without aping the originals. While Python fans are the primary audience, there is no need to have any familiarity with their output, as the musical still works remarkably well on its own merits.
The conventions and cliches of musical theatre are as much the butt of the joke as anything, with Sarah Harlington providing a fittingly OTT slighted diva as the Lady of the Lake. Her take on Whatever Happened To My Part is particularly pleasing, while she and Norton James’s expansive Galahad make The Song That Goes Like This genuinely funny however often you may have heard it before.
The cast throw themselves into a huge variety of roles with relish. Jonathan Tweedie and Marc Akinfolarin are versatile performers, while Matthew Pennington and Rhys Owen are likeable comic presences. Bob Harms is a gratifyingly straightforward Arthur after some of the ‘name’ performers of the role, and at times has a reassuringly Pythonesque quality – although he is much more reminiscent of John Cleese than of Graham Chapman’s original.
Ashley Nottingham’s choreography pokes gentle fun at West End tropes while being impressive in itself, with the Camelot number, complete with tap-dancing on Spam cans, a real highlight. Hints of pantomime in the staging are both welcome and judiciously used.
Sara Perks’s design is clever and impressive – constraints on budget and staging felt by touring productions are rarely in evidence, with the occasional struggles of a tiny band to do justice to the bigger numbers the only real drawback.
Otherwise, there is little to fault in a production that scores very highly indeed for sheer entertainment and comes highly recommended.