Musical looking on the bright side

Monty Python's Spamalot

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

****

MONTY Python was something completely different I seem to recall so when Eric Idle nicked bits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and added music this was never going to be Seven Brides for Oklahoma or whatever.

It is a gloriously stupid, mad musical with wit, inventive comedy, juvenile jokes, a smattering of smut and some brilliant songs which gently take the Michael out of the more traditional musical offering.

Matthew Kelly finds being Arthur king of the Britons is no easy ride - particularly without a horse . . .

There is The Song That Goes Like This  from the excellent Sir Dennis Galahad (Simon Lipkin - who also turns up as Prince Herbert's father and the Black Knight) and the wonderful Lady of the Lake (Jodie Prenger, winner of BBC's I'd Do Anything)  or The Diva's Lament by the lake lady

Miss Prenger shows a fine voice whether in her lament or the blousy, big band numbers she belts out like a good ‘un and she displays excellent timing and a real penchant for comedy. There is an awful lot more to Miss Prenger than merely winning a TV talent contest.

Star of the show though is Matthew Kelly. Kelly is a favourite actor. He is perhaps best known among the general public for Stars in their Eyes but he was a very fine actor before and after that. His last job was  as Pozzo in the revival of Waiting for Godot  alongside Sir Ian McKellen, for example - not exactly “Tonight Matthew I'm going to be . . . “

Kelly revels in the role of Arthur from when he first appears galloping on stage with his horse two half coconut shells played (?) by his loyal and faithful serf Patsy to when he ends up wed to Guinevere who is also that lake woman.

Let's hear it for Jodie Prenger as the Lady of the Lake big band style

Patsy is played by EastEnder's Todd Carty who is a revelation in the role. With the nearest thing to a ‘larf' in Albert Square being a heart attack or funeral or something - I often wonder if the programme is sponsored by some manufacturer of antidepressants - it is a novelty to see anyone from the soap in comedy but Carty takes to it to the manner born and is an excellent foil for Kelly.

Eric Idle, on film because he is too expensive to trundle around the countryside apparently, makes an appearance as God and just for tradition we have to have the most famous knight of them all.

And Graham Macduff is excellent as Sir Launcelot although it transpires that Guinevere is probably safe from his advances - unless she wears trousers and smokes a pipe that is.

Cleverly done in the stage show is the battle between Arthur and the Black Knight who dismisses losing an arm as just a scratch, a second arm as a flesh wound and when he loses both legs as well decides to call it a draw.

There is the Trojan rabbit, a interesting discussion on the various weights a swallow might carry, a killer rabbit which can decapitate unwary knights and a very expensive forest which probably did not leave much change out of a tenner.

It is pure escapism, daft, illogical and wonderfully funny ending with an Always Look on The Bright Side of Life singalong complete with drop down words. If you can't laugh at this than I would suggest checking your pulse, To 1-1-11.

Spamalot will also be at Wolverhampton Grand  from 25-30 April with Phil Jupitus as Arthur.

Roger Clarke

Meanwhile, from the lakeside . . .

*****

THIS hilarious musical is just about the best Christmas present available if you are fed up of bad news, government cuts, student demos and crocodile tears over Russian winning soccer's woeful World Cup race.

Need a good laugh? Well, this show by Birmingham's own Eric Idle and John Du Prez, is definitely the answer. It won the Tony award for Best Musical in 2005, and it's easy to see why.

In fact, anyone who doesn't find this trip to Camelot, Spamalot or 'laughalot' an uplifting experience must have had a humour by-pass!

Todd Carty as Arthur's loyal serf  (and horse)Patsy ready with his coconuts  . . . and no, that is not a euphemism . . .

From the moment Matthew Kelly gallops on stage, horseless, but to the accompaniment of clippety-clop from two half coconut shells wielded by his scruffy manservant, Patsy, the fuse is lit for an explosion of Monty Python-style fun.....rude at times, but who cares.

Kelly is a joy as King Arthur, setting out in search of the Holy Grail with the heavily burdened Patsy, superbly played by EastEnders' Todd Carty. On the journey he recruits his Knights of the Round Table, and there are fine performances from Graham MacDuff (Sir Lancelot) and Simon Lipkin (Sir Galahad).

And there's a right royal performance from David Langham as Prince Herbert, Not Dead Fred, the Historian and a Minstrel. Value for money there.

Hilarious moments turn up throughout the show, but is there one to beat the sword fight between the King and the Black Knight who, on having both arms and legs sliced off, describes it as just a flesh wound!

Busty Jodie Prenger, winner of BBC TV's I'd Do Anything, displays a lovely gift for comedy in the role of the Lady of the Lake, Eric Idle turns up on screen as God for a chat with King Arthur, and everyone in the audience joins in that wonderful song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Directed by Christopher Luscombe, Spamalot runs to 01.01.11. It would be sad to miss it.

Paul Marston 

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