Review: Spamalot (Storyhouse, Chester)

 

It was Eric Idle who had the bright idea of adapting – or lovingly ripping off, as he put it – the hit film Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the stage. The resulting show was a huge success. America loved it – perhaps surprisingly, as Pythonesque humour is in many respects very British – and it won a Tony award in 2005. Idle’s clever, finely tuned script has now been updated a little for this superb 2017 revival, with some new material including jokes about Piers Morgan and (of course) Donald Trump.

Essentially the show is a series of memorably entertaining episodes, but there is a storyline of sorts, one that draws on Arthurian legend. King Arthur needs knights for his Round Table and in the early part of the show goes in search of some. We also encounter the glamorous Lady of the Lake before the main plot gets underway as Arthur and his men begin their quest to find the Holy Grail.

This is the framework for a set of now famous set-piece sketches, each gleefully anticipated and then welcomed like old friends by an enthusiastic Storyhouse audience. Highlights include the Black Knight, who perseveres despite his limbs falling off one at a time, Fred (who’s treated like a corpse despite insisting he’s not yet dead) and the Knights who say Ni.

Spamalot won its Tony award as a musical, and the songs are also a key element in the show’s success. The most celebrated is Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, which we hear twice. Several of the others satirise to great effect conventional musicals, with titles such as Whatever Happened To My Part (delivered in barnstorming style by Sarah Harlington’s Lady of the Lake) and The Song That Goes Like This. The dance numbers similarly hilariously send up a range of choreographic clichés, with a tap dance routine that involves giant tins of spam.

The cast display brilliant energy and comic timing, led by Bob Harms (above) as Arthur, comically puzzled and exasperated by the wonderfully weird and eccentric characters he encounters on his journey. Vibrant, colourful sets add to the enjoyment and as the gags keep on coming it often feels like we’re watching a very superior Christmas pantomime.

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life had its second airing at the end of the show, with everyone in the house singing along. As we emerged from the warmth and laughter of the theatre into the darkness of a late October night (and with November only an hour or two away) it was just what we needed to keep our spirits high. Hats off to the Storyhouse, whose inaugural atumn season continues its run of outstanding shows.

***** Tremendous production of a show that’s as funny as ever

Spamalot continues at the Storyhouse, Chester until Saturday 4 November.