Theatre Review: Spamalot, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: May 14 2015
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Although comedy has vastly changed over the years, the most high-profile names in light entertainment remain fondly remembered. There’s Morecambe and Wise. Ken Dodd. The Two Ronnies. And there’s the Monty Python team.

From the late 1960s into the mid-1980s, the Monty Python team provided a surreal blend of comedy which ranged from clever jokes to ridiculous visuals. Based around the TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it also extended to a number of movies, most famously Monty Python’s Life Of Brian (a hilarious spoof of Jesus’ life story, in a film which I will review in the near future) and Monty Python and The Holy Grail. There were also a number of very famous sketches and scenes which are synonymous with a form of comedy that would later become known as being “Pythonesque”.

Whilst it is a long time since the Python team were performing for a TV audience on a permanent basis, its legacy still stands up with the older generation, and over the last few years, its name has been kept alive by the musical Spamalot, which recently made its return to the Liverpool Empire.

Spamalot is a hard show to explain the plot for. We meet a varied cast of characters, ranging from King Arthur to his potential knights to Sir Lancelot. The storyline is a little difficult to keep track of, or at least to see which is the central theme to the show, but it is clear that King Arthur and his assistant Patsy are travelling the world over, attempting to recruit Knights for the Round Table along the way, as they trek towards Camelot. A message from “God” (a screen recording by Michael Palin) explains that Arthur must find the Holy Grail. As the show rolls on, there are a plethora of Python references, from the use of Spam (hence the show name) to a sketch involving a clash between Arthur and a Black Knight, and a large number of musical numbers with a comedic, and at times satirical, tone to them.

Unlike most shows, it is tricky to describe the story of Spamalot in a few words. But that is a staple of the Monty Python style of humour: the story is over-the-top, the characters are deliberately ludicrous, and there are a ton of silly goings-on, ranging from the dialogue to the actions. Rather than making situations unbelievable (in a not believable kind of way), they become surreal, almost to the extent that the dafter the sketches become, the more entertaining they are and, strangely, the easier they are to understand. As stated earlier, the Monty Python form of comedy is to be ridiculous to the point that it is entertaining because of how stupid the premise is. That being said, the second half is much funnier than the first, so wait until you see the whole show before judging its comedy value.

The performances are strong as well. Joe Pasquale was originally scheduled to play King Arthur, but was unable to appear for this particular performance, leaving Jamie Tyler to play the lead role. But despite being a replacement, Tyler puts on a strong showing as the King; his accent is silly but not overly so, his walking style is likely to provide smiles, and he has a number of humorous one-liners. Other notable performers are Joe Tracini, the son of Pasquale, who does a very good job as a the understated Patsy; Josh Wilmott as Sir Beldevere; and Michael Dale as Sir Lancelot (which was doubly impressive as he himself was replacing Tyler in the Lancelot role). As for the songs: some, like Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life and I’m Not Dead Yet, will definitely be popular, and the singing performance by The Lady In The Lake (Sarah Earnshaw) was very good, but there are occasional numbers which don’t quite meet the mark.

In conclusion, Spamalot is a show which, more than most stage productions, caters to the target audience and the longtime following of the team behind it. Whereas some shows will bring in new fans to the performers or to the topic based on the strength of the performances and the entertainment of the show (Mamma Mia! being a great example which will have introduced a new generation to the music of ABBA), Spamalot is likely to entertain longtime Python fans, but may not attract a new following, simply because the style of humour may go over their heads. It is still an enjoyable show and most will find certain scenes funny; however, without question, the longtime fans who know Monty Python and understand the surreal comedy will be the group who will most highly rate Spamalot.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good