Spamalot – Theatre Review

Spamalot

I don’t really like Monty Python. Back at school I was forced to listen to one particular group of friends endlessly quote the films before I had seen a single frame. By the time I got round to seeing the films, as shown to me by a girlfriend I didn’t particularly like (I was fifteen, I now only date people I like), I knew all the jokes off by heart and my adolescent self found the whole thing completely silly and not at all funny. We broke up soon after and, apart from October’s visit to watch A Liar’s Autobiography, have never returned to give Monty Python a second chance. Last week with free tickets being offered I had no choice but to swallow my pride, grab my nearest bearded friend, and skip down to The Playhouse theatre and watch Spamalot. The things I do for the love of blog.

As the show opened with a musical number about Finland, the actors had misheard the narrator (!), all my prejudices came rushing to the surface. This was set to be two hours of silly nonsense and I was almost certain I wouldn’t enjoy myself. Spamalot had quite the hill to climb. Slowly but surely I was won over. The bizarre retelling of the story of King Arthur “lovingly ripped off from” Monty Python and the Holy Grail slowly worked its charms on me until I was laughing along with all the die-hard Python fans in the audience. What finally got me was the Lady of the Lake singing The Song That Goes Like This; an over the top parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber style love songs. In fact it was the Lady of the Lake, as played by Anna-Jane Casey, that consistently made the show for me. Her songs, including Diva’s Lament – Whatever Happened to My Part?, were mostly meta-songs referencing the fact that they were in a stage musical. Elements like this really tickled my funny bone and justified performing a film on stage.

Stephen Tompkinson - SpamalotIn the past Tim Curry has received rave reviews from theatre critics in the role of King Arthur while Alan Dale has received weak reviews from my friends (who as Alan Dale fans are to be believed). The latest star to take the role is Stephen Tompkinson who spent the late nineties breaking all our hearts as he tragically romanced Assumpta in Ballykissangel. While Tompkinson’s voice may not be as powerful as his more experienced co-stars he really throws himself into his performance and genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself – something that is a benefit in such a broad comedy and something I hear Mr. Dale was sorely lacking.

Spamalot forced me to enjoy myself despite my best efforts and has made good progress in removing those demons from my teen years that I am apparently still battling. At this rate I’ll be able to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian without having flashbacks to boring lunchtimes and evenings spent at the local vicarage (long story). The only downside to the show was one member of the audience, sat directly behind us, who seemed to have paid a lot of money only to say some of the lines moments before the actors onstage were able to. Monty Python are OK by me now, the fans still aren’t.

Spamalot is currently running at the Playhouse theatre in London and tickets can be bought online here ranging from £15 to £75.

A Liar’s Autobiography – LFF Review

Nine years before his death Monty Python member Graham Chapman wrote a fictional autobiography entitled The Liar’s Autobiography. Shortly before his death Chapman recording a reading of the book and now, 23 years after his death, these tapes have been made into an animated film featuring four other Pythons, three directors, and 17 animation styles provided by 14 different animation studios. The result is mind-blowing, brain-boggling, utterly fascinating, and endlessly revealing.

The mix of animation styles and the wild free-wheeling nature of the film makes for an attention grabbing watch. We are taken from a childhood memory to an aerial fantasy though to the Pythons as monkeys via the painted horror of a man overcoming alcohol addiction and a fairground tour of University based sexual exploits led by Chapman riding in a mechanical penis. It’s impossible to become bored as the film grabs you by the navel and pulls you from one direction to the next.

You may have noticed mention of a mechanical penis back there. While this is an animated film it is quite rightly rated at a 15 age certificate. Chapman’s was a life at times filled with sex and the film does not shy away from showing this is surprisingly graphic detail. Comically graphic detail I should say. There is no part of the film that isn’t presented with a wry smile and a charming sense of humour.

While most of the events we are shown were clearly fictional the whole film smacks of a truth that goes beyond whether or not any of it actually happened. What we are seeing is not an autobiography in a traditional sense but a visual representation of a character as a whole rather that the character’s life.

Any fan of Graham Chapman or Monty Python will love the film. I’ve never been a huge fan and I found A Liar’s Autobiography to be a delightfully surreal trip inside the mind of a comedy legend.

Out Now (And Just For Today) – 25th March 2010

Across the country tonight cinemas are screening a filmed performance of the tribute to Monty Python, Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy). The show is a ninety minute comic oratorio  inspired by Life Of Brian and was filmed at the Royal Albert Hall late last year to celebrate forty years of Monty Python. Nearly all the Pythons are in it and it’s obviously going to be enjoyed by any fan.

Listings for Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy) can be found here.