Spamalot is based on the 1975 classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a cheeky spoof on the legendary King Arthur’s quest to find the elusive treasure. With a book by Monty Python’s Eric Idle and music by Idle and English composer John Du Prez, the show had its Broadway premiere in 2005, won the Tony Award for ‘Best Musical’ and played for almost four years. A subsequent West End production enjoyed a two-and-a-half-year run.
But when Spamalot arrived in Melbourne in December 2007, the Australian production failed to achieve such success, closing the following April with no transfer to other states. The production by One Eyed Man Productions, which opened at Hayes Theatre Co last week, is therefore the professional debut of Spamalot in New South Wales.
Set in the 10th century A.D., King Arthur (Cramer Cain) travels England with his servant, Patsy (Bishanyia Vincent), to find men willing to join the Knights of the Round Table. Members of that fellowship ultimately include Sir Robin (Marty Alix), Sir Galahad (Blake Appelqvist), Sir Lancelot (Aaron Tsindos) and Sir Bedevere (Jane Watt). Arthur’s belief in his destiny as ruler of England has come from having been given the sword, Excalibur, by the Lady of the Lake (Josie Lane).
Arthur receives a message from God (AKA the voice of Magda Szubanski, conjuring one of her most-loved sketch comedy characters, Lynne Postlethwaite) who tasks him with finding the Holy Grail, a mission that involves his knights and an extensive search. As any Monty Python fan knows, a whole lot of quotable nonsense follows, including a host of encounters with outlandish characters. There’s taunting of the English knights by French soldiers, and an additional challenge set by The Knights who Say Ni, who will only allow Arthur to pass through their forest if he puts on a musical (“but not an Andrew Lloyd Webber”).
In the spirit of Monty Python, Spamalot is one of the most ludicrously silly stage shows you’re likely to see, and Richard Carroll has crafted a production that is rightly ridiculous and highly entertaining, making terrific use of the comedic talents of the cast. The ordinarily tiny Hayes stage has even less space for performers to utilise than usual, as extra seating has been added to create a traverse, immersing the audience in the action. Having the audience on stage is a device Carroll made excellent use of for Calamity Jane. While Calamity Jane was a superior production and whether the audience interaction here is as successful is arguable, there’s no denying the immensely fun atmosphere that is enhanced by the crowd’s proximity to unfolding events. When it comes to the visuals, Emma Vine’s sets and costumes demonstrate fitting deference to the look and feel of the Monty Python franchise.
On top of that, each member of the eight-strong cast delivers. With a performance not remotely reminiscent of Graham Chapman in the 1975 film, Cain lends considerable presence to the assured but asinine King Arthur. Alix owns the role of the lily-livered Sir Robin, Appelqvist is wonderfully animated and shows off his comedy chops in each of his roles, and Rob Johnson earns some of the evening’s best laughs as Prince Herbert, revealed to be Spamalot’s damsel in distress. Lane reminds us of her enviable vocal strength as the Lady of the Lake, while both Watt’s and Vincent’s physical comedy skills are impressive. Last but certainly not least, Tsindos is an asset in every guise he assumes, from the outed Sir Lancelot to a gibing French guard, and he doesn’t throw away a single line.
The music is entertaining (if not memorable), but sound on opening night was problematic, as performers’ singing was often difficult to hear over the production’s recorded music. This is an issue that will hopefully be overcome as the season progresses.
Above all else, Monty Python’s Spamalot is an evening of fun that forces you to check your cynicism at the door for two-and-a-half hours and embrace the absurd – and it’s genuinely very difficult to resist.
MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point
Season: Playing now until 13 April 2019
Times: Mon 6.30pm | Tues – Sat 7.30pm | Wed & Sat 2.00pm
Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au | (02) 8065 7337