A former Doctor Who and an ex-Coronation Street resident were officially crowned King Arthur and Sir Lancelot last night as Peter Davison and Bill Ward faced friends, celebrities and the press in a special performance of Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Palace.
The pair first donned their armour on 23 July, joining a cast that includes original cast member Hannah Waddingham (The Lady of the Lake), plus Steven Kynman (Prince Herbert), Andrew Spillett (Patsy), Robert Hands (Sir Robin), Graham MacDuff (Sir Galahad) and Tony Timberlake (Sir Bedevere).
At the after show party held at Stanza, Davison told Official London Theatre that the performance was “probably more scary than it should have been, seeing as we’ve done it for six weeks, because there were lots of people that we knew in”.
Davison, known for his television credits including Doctor Who, All Creatures Great And Small and At Home With The Braithwaites, said he was delighted to have taken on the role of King Arthur. “I wanted to do it because I’ve been a life-long fan of Monty Python,” he said. “I was 17 when it started and so it’s kind of ingrained into my blood really. This is the nearest I would ever come to becoming a member of the Monty Python team.”
The actor has big shoes to fill as he follows both original King Arthur Tim Curry and last incumbent Simon Russell Beale into the role. Co-star Waddingham feels Davison’s portrayal is closer to that of Graham Chapman in the original film Monty Python And The Holy Grail, from which the musical is ‘lovingly ripped off’. “I knew he would be, because he has a kind of honesty, a royal quality to him anyway. When I heard that they’d cast him I just thought that makes total sense to me,” she said. Davison commented: “I don’t know if it’s what I intended but it’s the natural inclination. I wasn’t that influenced [by Curry and Russell Beale], but I had a particular idea which I think was probably closer to Graham Chapman, because I love the film so much.” He described his idea of King Arthur as “just a man trying to do his best and making very bad choices with regard to his Knights of the Round Table. It’s enormous fun to do.”
Apart from the supporting role of Amos Hart in Chicago, this is Davison’s only role in musical theatre. Is it the start of a new career direction? Perhaps not. “The number of musicals that I can do is fairly limited. This is great for me because I don’t have to do much apart from sing one song and say some funny lines. If they open more productions around the world I think maybe I’ll just follow Spamalot around the world.”
Fellow new cast member Ward is having an equally spamtastic time in the show and is enjoying being on stage again after years playing love rat Charlie Stubbs in the soap Coronation Street. “I mostly did theatre before I did Coronation Street,” he told us, “so for me it was a joy to be able to come back and do some theatre again. I had a fantastic time [on the soap] but for three and a half years I couldn’t do any theatre.”
Ward gets to play all sorts of characters in the musical. As well as the homicidally brave knight Sir Lancelot, he plays “a Scottish bloke who flies through the air with horns and stuff, the Knights of Ni who are in yak costumes on silts, and the silly French taunting bloke”.
His favourite? “I’m quite a big fan of the Knights who say Ni. They’re kind of rubbish monsters and I feel terribly sorry for them. I kind of imagine that they mostly sit in the forest watching VHS reruns of Z-Cars on corduroy sofas, and they don’t get to do much scaring of people because nobody walks in their forest. So when people do come to the forest and scaring is required, they don’t have a clue what to do. Also, if you are eight foot high, dressed in a yak suit, wearing horns, the chances are you’re not going meet a mate very readily. So I feel very sorry for the knights who say Ni because they’re lonely people who have a number of problems.”
Davison and Ward have been eagerly accepted into the fold by Waddingham, who has played The Lady of the Lake since the show opened in October last year. “It’s been lovely. Peter Davison was my Doctor Who so I couldn’t wait for him to come in,” she said. “And Bill Ward is just fantastic, and easy on the eye! They’ve folded into the family very well. It really is, above all shows that I’ve worked on, a real family.” What’s more, she adds of Davison: “It’s lovely for me having a lovely strapping heterosexual male to kiss!”
After nearly a year in the vocally demanding role, Waddingham feels her voice has never been stronger, which certainly seemed to be true in last night’s performance. But keeping her performance up to scratch takes effort: “When you’ve been doing it for so long there is an element of groundhog day, you just think, oh God, am I over-egging this and looking like a complete idiot, gurning like a fool? But I’ve got some very nice friends and they would let me know if I was a bit rubbish.”
Waddingham loves the role so much that she will be heading to Broadway in January to recreate her performance in the US production. Meanwhile, the London role will be re-cast via a Swedish reality television show, which we in the Official London Theatre office first thought was a Python-style joke. “So did we!” said Waddingham. “Apparently there is such a massive Swedish theatregoing public that they are chancing their arm and seeing what happens. The four finalists are going to come over here so I will be giving them some tips.”
In the meantime, Waddingham will have Davison and Ward as her co-stars until she leaves the London production in January. On 30 September, Monty Python’s Spamalot celebrates a year in the West End.