In the latest of my jollies to see shows on the Regional theatre circuit, I’ve just been to see the touring production of Spamalot, having seen the West End and Broadway productions around 7 times in total in the past.
I’ve decided to keep this review fairly short, as this tour has been running for eons, and finally comes to an end at the end of the Manchester run (though it is moving briefly to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End of London over the summer, I’m told) – plus I’ve seen the show itself so many times that I’ve not got too much to add to my previous thoughts.
When I saw Spamalot in the listings for the Opera House, I umm’d and ahh’d about going to see it, as I wasn’t particularly a fan of the casting, and was worried that what passed for ‘Monty Python’ on the West End / Broadway stage, may have diminished somewhat on the regional circuit – given the comedy of the subject matter, I had the thought that the production would need to have very solid staging to retain credibility, and so, with touring sets often being as they are, I had a few concerns going in to see the production.
All of that said, I was taking Max with me, who had not seen it before – short of the trailer (which I’ve posted below), the night before, at which point his eyes almost popped out of his head, bless him – and knew that regardless, we’d be in for a giggle or two.
Having seen this tank on Broadway (the audience we had just didn’t ‘get’ it, which made it incredibly awkward), I figured that it the touring production must have been doing something right to keep going for so long, and accordingly took the plunge again, to see if Spamalot was still indeed ‘not yet dead’ 😉
However, and it is with a very heavy heart, as I do very much love this show, but unfortunately, I’m branding this touring version as SHAMALOT.
Sorry, but compared to previous versions that I have seen, this tired looking production essentially felt like cheap pantomime. I felt that the production quality was not as I’d hoped, and the once clever and witty script, had gone a bit stale around the edges and in parts simply appealed to the lowest common denominator. It was a fun night out, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve left feeling a bit deflated and having to try to justify it to Max, and this review reflects this.
What I would like to say, however, is that this is in no way a comment on the cast of the show, who you could tell were working very hard to work with what they had. Bonnie Langford was fab, as expected, given the show is geared completely towards showing off her role as the only real singing part, and Marcus Brigstocke was actually much better than I’d been expected, and ultimately provided a sturdy King Arthur. Todd Carty as Patsy was good, if a little debasing, but he has a rather nice singing voice I was pleased to discover, and, as someone who watched Eastenders loads in the glory days, was great to see him again.
I have very mixed thoughts about this regional rewrite that they do on ‘You Won’t Succeed On Broadway’, but it does work, bar the occasionally clunky ad lib, and is by and large very funny. I’d be interested to see how it works in a more regional venue than Manchester, and how clever they are with the cultural references and their research, as I think that’s a good indicator of how much they actually do want to work to please their audience, rather than just go through the usual motions.
The show itself seems to go by ridiculously quickly, we were out by half nine, with a 20-25 minute interval – it was still light when we got out! (fortunately, we also live less than five minutes away, so we were home by 21:40 – which is unheard of). I can’t think of specific examples of scenes that have been cut or drastically modified (other than chunks from some of the songs), but there seemed to be a lot of spam, and not much substance – the story weaved all over the place. Whilst I appreciate that this is part of the charm of the show (as I say, it’s a show I do very much enjoy), tonight it just seemed even more incoherent if I am honest. Max was sat next to me, and is a Monty Python fan, and it was doing his head in during certain places, to be honest. That said, other MP fans around us took great delight in the show, so perhaps I’ve just been spoilt in the past with my luck in seeing this show as many times as I have, and on a bigger/more national stage.
Here is a slightly dated trailer (the tour has been going THAT long) for the touring production – but here’s what you get when you open the can on Spamalot!
Ultimately, this is a good night of fun, as reflected by the audience reaction at tonight’s performance, and yes, I had a good old sing-a-long too.
Additionally, for me, it was a great experience to watch the show without being surrounded by tourists, as the Brits do tend to get the show a lot more I find – but I’d be fibbing if I didn’t mention that a few pockets of people did leave in the interval it would seem, for whatever reason (I should add, it was probably Press Night too, which means these people may / may not have even paid to start with).
If you’re thinking of going, I’d still recommend it, but only as this is currently the only version of this show in the UK, and the opportunity to see the full-blown West End production has now passed.