On Saturday night I met Steve, Fiona and Mike, an old work chum from the SCO, to enjoy Eric Idle's Monty Python musical, Spamalot. I've been wanting to see it for ages, and as it turned out that Mike, who is visiting London for the first time whilst travelling for work, is a big Python fan, the deal was sealed. It's staged at the Palace Theatre in the heart of the West End: Cambridge Circus at the corner of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. The imposing brick theatre started out in life as the Royal English Opera in 1891.
Spamalot, which is 'lovingly ripped off from the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail', has been running at the 1400-seat Palace since October 2006, with a range of actors playing the lead role of King Arthur, including Tim Curry who transferred from the show's initial Broadway run; the former Dr Who, Peter Davison; Alan Dale from Neighbours and Ugly Betty (and Onehunga High School, my old stamping ground!); and in the past few weeks, the new Arthur has been Sanjeev Bhaskar of Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No.42 fame.
While the musical includes a large number of songs from the Python movies, I was just as interested in the new material slotted in around them, and in particular the way in which these were used to take the mickey out of the West End / Broadway musical genre, and which appealed to my somewhat juvenile sense of humour.
The performance of the Lady of the Lake is a well-crafted recurring joke that pokes fun at the seemingly mandatory narrative devices that are thrown into musical numbers to give the audience what they expect, which is generally a love story, even if it has to be shoe-horned in rather artlessly. Witness the stirring ballad, The Song That Goes Like This, which is a duet between the Lady and Arthur:
Once in every show
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song
That goes like this?
Where is it? Where? Where?
A sentimental song
That casts a magic spell
They all will hum along
We'll overact like hell
For this is the song that goes like this
Yes it is! Yes it is!
Now we can go straight
Right down the middle eight
A bridge that is too far for me
I'll sing it in your face
While we both embrace
The key... [and so on]
And after the interval, the Lady returns with her heart-felt grievance resulting from being out of the spotlight for too long, in the song Diva's Lament:
What ever happened to my part?
It was exciting at the start.
Now we're halfway through Act 2
And I've had nothing yet to do.
I've been offstage for far too long
It's ages since I had a song.
This is one unhappy Diva
The producers have deceived her.
There is nothing I can sing from my heart.
Whatever happened to my part?
My love life is a mess
I've got constant PMS
I'm fed up to the gills
They hate me there backstage
They say I'm too old for my age
And they're trying to replace me with Heather Mills!
Oh the ignominy! Well, she shouldn't complain too much, because the diva Nina Soderquist won the role of the Lady in a Swedish reality TV sing-off. (She is great in the role, mind). But my favourite theatre joke in Spamalot is probably the silliest, and it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair. In the controversy-courting but good clean fun of You Won't Succeed On The West End (If You Don't Have Any Jews):
You may have dramatic lighting,
Or lots of horrid fighting,
You may even have some white men sing the blues!
Your knights might be nice boys,
But sadly we're all goys,
And that noise that you call singing you must lose.
So, despite your pretty lights,
and naughty girls in nasty tights,
and the most impressive scenery you use...
You may have dancing mana-mano,
You may bring on a piano,
But they will not give a damn-o
If you don't have any Jews!
...which is the cue for a showstopping Jewish-themed hoofing replete with foot-stamping and loud exclamations. As this is proceeding, and a dozen singers and dancers are whirling around in a carefully-choreographed maelstrom of sequinned medieval tabards, one showgirl emerges from stage right, pulling a small trolley full of straw. Just as she reaches centre stage, the entire cast stamps their feet and points to the trolley, shouting:
Or, if you prefer, 'hay'. I did say it was rather juvenile!
(Pic taken by Fiona after the show)