The big question is, “Can Monty Python material be just as funny when it’s not being performed by the Pythons?” And without hesitation I can put my hand on my dicky heart and say, “Yes”.
This Selladoor touring production is a very clever tribute to a golden age of anarchic comedy, the likes of which we may never see again. It doesn’t matter that the story lines – and the vast majority of the jokes – have been ‘lovingly ripped off” from their 1975 film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’; or that they’ve snuck in lines from ‘The Parrot Sketch’ or crowbarred in songs from other films; it is all still terribly funny. If you’ve ever liked Python, you’ll love this.
Even the Americans liked it…and they never really ‘got’ the 70s television series. The original 2005 Broadway production received 14 Tony Awards nominations, won Best Musical and was seen by two million people. Which is remarkable, considering they were watching a cross-over between three very British Institutions; Python, panto and an End of the Pier Show.
All the old clichés are present and correct and woven into a merciless micky-take of the Big Musical format. It’s grubby old England in 932 AD and The Dark Ages are about to collide head on with Broadway. At Camelot, King Arthur is itching to go on a quest which hopefully will involve a few skirmishes with those dreadful French people. But there are dancing Ra Ra girls to admire and silly songs to sing. The best is Eric Idle’s masterful pastiche of every other Musical Theatre number you’ve ever heard, “Once In Every Show, There Comes A Song Like This”, which savagely sends up not only the predictability of Musical numbers but also the deeply mannered way in which they are sung.
Katherine Glover (as The Lady of the Lake) is quite brilliant at this; her automaton mannerisms and excruciating facial expressions capture every annoying ‘tick’ ever adopted by West End divas. At one point she holds a high note for so long, she’s got to time to repair her lipstick whilst singing it. Much later, having been off stage for much of Act 2, she sings a feisty cabaret noir number complaining “Whatever Happened To My Part”. I suspect she may be responsible for several singers, who have suddenly recognised themselves, resigning from show business.
The male star is Bob Harms as King Arthur whose stripped-back, no-nonsense approach to Musical Theatre insidiously undermines the whole edifice. It is he who gets to tell the Joe Hart joke, which still got a laugh on the day the former Shrewsbury Town goal keeper was dropped from The World Cup Squad.
Every memorable ‘Holy Grail’ film moment is cheerily recreated; the Knights That Say Ni, the fluffy killer rabbits and the Black Knight who is determined to fight on. despite losing all four limbs. In addition, there are phallic French baguettes, tap-dancing routines on top of giant tins of Spam, and an agonising audience participation spot. Be careful where you sit, or you too could be having Spam for supper.
It all ends, predictably, with a whistle-along version of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’. And if you don’t enjoy it, quite frankly I will be obliged to follow the French insult and “fart in your general direction”.
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