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4th February 2015

Review: Spamalot

Spamalot offered a lot of surrealist surprises and a hilarious evening, writes Matthew Gormley

Pantomime season is now just a distant memory, but 2015 looks set to be another great year for theatre in Manchester. Whilst award-winning smash-hit The Lion King returns to the Palace Theatre for five weeks, following a record-breaking four-month residency from December 2012, over at the Opera House the satirical spectacular Spamalot launches its 2015 tour, and if you’re looking to shake off those post-Christmas blues, then this is most definitely the show to see.

Billed as “the hit musical lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Spamalot tells the story of King Arthur, the popular legend that has been the source of more poems, novels, romances, paintings, plays, operas, films and television series than any other, even Robin Hood. Here, the story of King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail is combined with the humour of Monty Python, the surreal group whose influence on British comedy is often likened The Beatles’ influence on music. Originally consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, the Pythons’ sketch show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, aired on the BBC for four series between 1969 and 1974. Its popularity spawned a number of feature films, including the above mentioned King Arthur spoof, upon which this hit musical is based. The title is inspired by a line from the 1975 film, “we eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.”

Joe Pasquale returns to the role of King Arthur, having previously completed two stints in the West End. Joe has long been a favourite in the entertainment industry, having toured with his own stand-up shows for the past 20 years, as well as starring in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (2007) and The Wizard of Oz (2010). In addition, he was crowned King of the Jungle in the fourth series of ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, and is a mainstay of British pantomime, selling out every Christmas in various theatres up and down the country. Comedy is where Joe excels, so many would argue that this is the perfect role for him; although you cannot fault his comic timing, his singing voice is weak and he is often drowned out during musical numbers.

Sarah Earnshaw puts in a stunning performance as The Lady of the Lake. Her CV boasts an impressive number of musical theatre roles, including the Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooge (London Palladium & UK Tour) and Emma Carew in Jekyll & Hyde (UK Tour). She has also been a lead vocalist in Puttin’ On The Ritz (UK Tour), and when you hear her voice it’s easy to see why. Earnshaw has magnificent stage presence and, in my opinion, steals the show with her performance.

Popular television actor Todd Carty portrays King Arthur’s quiet, bumbling but lovable assistant Patsy. Todd’s big break was in the role as Tucker in the BBC’s Grange Hill, a character who was so popular he was given his own series as an adult, Tucker’s Luck. Since then he has starred in The Bill and Heartbeat. He made his stage debut at the New London Theatre, where he played the leading role of Lionel in a musical based on Lionel Bart’s life.

In homage to the original film, where the six Pythons played the majority of the roles, the other actors, including Will Hawksworth, Richard Kent and Richard Meek, each play various characters.

Packed with laugh-out-loud moments from the minute the curtain is raised, this show fails to take itself very seriously at all. Musical numbers include the ‘Fisch Schlapping Song’, ‘He is Not Dead Yet’ and ‘Find Your Grail’, and although the score stays true to the original Broadway production, ‘You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz’ brings things bang up-to-date, with references to current television favourites, including Mel & Sue and Mary Berry. ‘The Diva’s Lament’, a song belted out by The Lady of the Lake about her lack of stage of time in Act Two, is delightfully funny and, for me, the musical highlight.

Of course, this being Monty Python, it’s as much about the surrealism as it is about the songs, and there are plenty of ridiculously hilarious moments, such as the corpse who refuses to die and Sir Lancelot ‘accepting’ himself and heading to the YMCA. There’s even audience participation as we head towards the finale, with one member of the public getting more than they bargained for when they bought their ticket. And no Monty Python show would be complete without a rousing rendition of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’, a sing-a-long by which the entire cast and auditorium finishes the show in style.

Spamalot is the perfect show feel-good show to blow away those January blues; a musical comedy that will leave you wanting more, with huge laughs, huge sets and huge songs. There’s even an appearance from physicist Brian Cox! Doing what? Now, that would be telling…

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