Outrageous costumes, cross-dressing roles, an ancient myth dressed up in tinsel. Audience participation and singalong tunes: yes, it’s pantomime season.
But Spamalot, running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre till Saturday, owes as much to the best of musical theatre as it does to panto. Yes, it’s rooted firmly in the Monty Python canon, based very closely on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but these guys and gals can act and sing and tap dance along with the best of them. No surprise, really, when fifty per cent of the cast trained at Arts Ed.
This new touring production under the direction of Daniel Buckroyd, from the book and music of Eric Idle and John du Prez, is joyous entertainment and of course completely silly. And it clearly has a timeless appeal. While many in the audience seemed to know every line of the script, including all the expletives delivered to King Arthur by the raspberry-blowing French soldier, there’s a new generation which loves the absurdist humour.
This sits surprisingly well with the pastiche on just about every musical theatre tradition, the high-kicking chorus girls, dancing queens and a divine diva. Bob Harms commands the stage as the disenchanted and world weary King Arthur, gathering around him the motliest crew of knights ever to disgrace the boards.
Rhys Owen plays the hapless and downtrodden king’s servant Patsy, yes, the one who clacks the coconut halves for horses hooves. The Voice winner by far, though, is Sarah Harlington as the Lady of the Lake, capable of sheer and soaring sweetness as well as a range of styles from Elaine Paige to Shirley Bassey.
She shares with Arthur the best musical number, the witty and satirical The Song That Goes Like This, though obviously the audience best loved the singalong favourite pinched from Life of Brian.
There’ve been updates since the show was first seen (on Broadway, back in 2005) and there are cameo appearances from Harry Potter and Donald Trump. Surprises for the audience, too, but we’re not giving any more away on that front. Get yourself down there and join in the fun.
Spamalot runs until Saturday Nov 11.
Coming soon to the Palace or sister theatre the Manchester Opera House are Cilla, Crazy for You, Beautiful and Evita. But if it’s panto that you really want, Dick Whittington opens on Dec 9.