Before the show even starts you know you are in for an evening of Pythonic silliness when you are told to let your mobile phone ring “willy-nilly” throughout the performance. After a Tony-winning assault on Broadway, Eric Idle has brought his musical version of Monty Python And The Holy Grail to the Palace theatre in London’s West End. Caroline Bishop went along to the first night, hoping not to be hit round the head with a dead fish…
Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s musical version of the classic film Monty Python And The Holy Grail is billed as having flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and a legless knight. It does indeed feature all these things, and many other recognisable characters and happenings from the film, plus bits stolen from elsewhere in the Python catalogue –Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life from Life Of Brian, for example. It’s all held together with a musical score which expands on songs from the film (Knights Of The Round Table) while adding in ridiculous new ones.
Plot is by-the-by really, but goes something like this: King Arthur, King of the Britons – camped up to great effect by Tim Curry – is in search of knights to accompany him on his quest from God (voiced by John Cleese) to find the Holy Grail. In their quest, the haphazard bunch of knights, including a vain Sir Galahad (Christopher Sieber), a cowardly Sir Robin (Robert Hands) and the closet gay Sir Lancelot (Tom Goodman-Hill) – encounter familiar characters like the insulting Frenchmen (“I blow my nose at you”) the Black Knight (“it’s just a scratch”) and the Knights Who Say Ni (“Ni”).
But it’s really all a very jolly excuse for lots of silly singing, Python one-liners, scantily-clad showgirls and tongue-in-cheek dance routines. The cleverness of the show is that, while it is in itself a musical, Idle and Du Prez manage to mock every other type of musical on a West End/Broadway stage, whilst shamelessly pilfering from them at the same time. For example, The Song That Goes Like This, sung by King Arthur and the Lady Of The Lake (Hannah Waddingham), mocks the Lloyd Webber-style big emotional numbers (“that end with a kiss”) while at the same time showing off the extraordinary vocal talents of Waddingham. Among the rest of the score, Find Your Grail seems a parody of every X-Factor winner’s Christmas number one (Shayne Ward’s That’s My Goal springs to mind), while You Won’t Succeed and His Name Is Lancelot camp up the cabaret with showgirls and guys whose OTT costumes mirror/mock the razzle dazzle of any traditional Broadway show.
Flashing his broad grin every so often, Curry seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and judging from the laughter and the quoting of Python lines heard in the interval, the audience did too. But even Britons can reach their limits of silliness – not one person took a proffered spam sandwich at the interval.
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