Theatre: Spamalot


Well, at least there was Nina Söderquist

It isn't often that I am put off seeing a show just because I have heard the cast album. But when I heard Spamalot a few years back I thought it was such crap that I waited until the ticket prices dropped through the floor before going to see it. Perhaps the show is on its last legs. The show has been a huge hit on Broadway but seems to be struggling here. Monty Python wrote some hilarious music in their day, but you wouldn't know it with this lamely written show that serves up lines like:
We're going off to war
We'll have girlfriends by the score
We'll be shot by Michael Moore
Because we're not yet dead

Sitting in the front row you can just smell the stench of stale satire. It was a very tame night and hardly the bloody and silly enjoyment of the film that this musical "lovingly rips off". Anything slightly risqué seems to have been cut or toned down (so no oral sex jokes) to the point that instead there are stereotypes of French mimes, cheerleaders and a big musical number about Jews on Broadway theatre (the lyrics were rewritten but it was hard to hear what they were singing anyway since the balance wasn't very good)... Pretty uninspired stuff...

Anyway, all can be somewhat forgiven when the price of the ticket is less than the cost to go to the cinema. I took Fraser, who is always nagging me that I don't mention him on my blog (and to which I reply if he went to the theatre with me there would be a much better chance of getting a mention). He is a little ambivalent about musical theatre, but after seeing Gone With The Wind I figured that is enough to make you want to stay away from the West End for years so we made a great pair. Who knows maybe if I see one more production by Trevor Nunn and I will never return to the theatre and start hanging 'round in bars?

The music and stale satire aside, the show is rather well put together and there are some of Monty Python's sketches that have survived the musicalisation pasteurisation. So much so that in two scenes Fraser snorted so I took that to mean he was laughing.

But Tuesday night's performance also seemed to overall lack the comic timing necessary to make the show genuinely funny. Only the performances by Nina Söderquist and Jake Nightingale (as the Lady of the Lake and various characters respectively) seemed to rise to the challenge of giving the show the laughs it needs. Söderquist won the role in a Swedish television show which seems like a pretty good idea if they can find performers like this.

Alas the biggest problem with the show was the central character of King Arthur played by Alan Dale. Sitting in the front row, even then it was hard to tell if he was alive. The role of King Arthur doesn't have all the laughs, but straight men should be able to deliver lines with a little enthusiasm and timing. Alas instead he gave the character of King Arthur a weird creepiness that would have been more suited playing an Austrian in the Sound of Music (or perhaps just any old Austrian). When Arthur kissed the Lady of the Lake the obvious age difference did make me wonder a little about art imitating life... Browsing through the programme at intermission it was probably the first instance where I gazed at the bios of the understudies sighing at what could have been. Actually there were quite a few of the ensemble and swing that weren't bad performers... Or lookers for that matter...

All told, the show will make a great musical for the amdram circuit, but unless you are seeing it for cheap, get the movie out on DVD. There is less singing, but it is much funnier. Still there was something Fraser and I took away from the show. Later in the evening we both were Googling the ensemble and swing members to see if they had any fan sites. Alas they did not. What is with these up and coming actors? Not a website between them... Oh well...

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