|Manchester theatre reviews|
Monty Python’s Spamalot at Opera House
By Eric Idle and John Du Prez
Reviewed by Helen Nugent May 2012
As someone who spent a great deal of their student life quoting the Knights Who Say Ni and demanding a shrubbery, news that Monty Python’s Spamalot was coming to Manchester was as thrilling a prospect as meeting the keeper of the Bridge of Death.
For the uninitiated, Monty Python’s eccentric blend of non sequiturs, half-finished sketches and stream of consciousness comedy can seem baffling. But on the first evening of a week-long run at Manchester’s Opera House, the majority of the audience were clearly hardened fans who delight in regurgitating Python scripts.
Given the rousing reception afforded to leading actors Marcus Brigstocke, Bonnie Langford and Todd Carty last night, it is hard to believe that Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the basis for Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s Spamalot, was made in the year this reviewer was born. Back in 1974, the collected Pythons shot the film on a meagre budget of just £229,000 on the chilly and windswept outcrops of the Scottish Highlands.
Nearly 40 years later, the dialogue, Arthurian setting and general silliness haven’t aged a day. Michael Palin, John Cleese and co may have moved on to other projects but affection for their ground-breaking, subversive humour has not waned. In a packed Opera House, where the, er, cosy Victorian seating sets audience members cheek by jowl with their neighbours, the public suspended a considerable amount of disbelief to enjoy a rag-tag bunch of knights and peasants searching for the Holy Grail.
Every memorable line was greeted with howls of laughter, most notably King Arthur’s sword fight with the Black Knight. “It’s just a flesh wound,” asserts the knight, despite having lost both his arms. Second in the laughter stakes was the confrontation between Arthur, his knights and the French soldier. Does abuse really get any better than this? “I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”
Charged with recreating the characters made famous by Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, Brigstocke and Carty push all the right buttons, at least in the second half. Both actors seemed weary during the first hour, perhaps a touch of going through the motions, but had gathered themselves up and taken the crowd with them by Act Two. However, it would be no exaggeration to say that comedian Brigstocke seems more comfortable when performing his own material or delivering jokes and acute observations during one of his many appearances on BBC Radio 4.
The surprise of the night was Bonnie Langford. For this reviewer at least, Langford is famous for her turn as the 22nd assistant to Doctor Who and as a bouncy dancer on the 1980s TV show, the Hot Shoe Show. As petite now as she was then, Langford belted out a slew of songs and was at her most entertaining during ‘The Diva’s Lament’ (or ‘Whatever Happened to My Part?’).
And so, like the classic ‘70s film, Spamalot ambushed the audience with a heady mix of parody, panto and farce – with a flavour of music hall, cabaret, gay burlesque and West End musical thrown in for good measure. A rollicking good night? You betcha. But the genius stroke was Idle’s decision to pilfer ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Python’s ‘Life of Brian’. In these days of economic austerity, a bickering government coalition and dire warnings of European Union collapse, we could all do with a laugh, a smile and a dance and a song.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is at the Opera House until Saturday 26 May, 2012