Find your Grail – in Spamalot. This Monty Python musical on the quest for the Holy Grail is silliness in excelsis. And often it’s fabulously intelligent silliness, building whole castles in the air out of clever daftness. Such as when King Arthur trots around the stage to the clip- clopping of two halves of a coconut, which soon leads to a debate between two soldiers (their heads popping out of a castle’s battlements) about the physics and ornithology involved in a migrating bird carrying a coconut. Or when the peasant Denis says to Arthur: “I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were a self- perpetuating collective.”
These jokes are, of course, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, from which most of Spamalot has been “lovingly ripped off” by Eric Idle. Some of the items come from other Python films, above all “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. But many of the best jokes are musical, and my own favourite number is new with Spamalot: “The Song that Goes Like This”, the rubbish romance that ideally encapsulates the manufactured lyrical rapture of at least a dozen blockbuster musicals from the past 25 years. And you don’t need to know anything about tap dance to laugh when Arthur does a bit of slow hoofing while his taps are visibly dubbed at double speed by his faithful retainer with the two halves of the coconut, but, as the person who laughed most, I can say that it helps.
Mike Nichols’s direction is as inventively funny as the show. Hannah Waddington is a spectacular Lady of the Lake who, amid a vocal range of well over two octaves, casually throws in fleeting spoofs of a galaxy of musical divas. And the star who makes us all happiest is Tim Curry as Arthur, still as blithe, naughty, raunchy and disconcertingly hearty three decades after The Rocky Horror Show made him a legend. His toothy, twinkling, wicked-old- imp grin (it looks the way mine feels) is worth the price of admission. ★★★★☆
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