Eastcote arts critic KATE LONGHURST reviews Spamalot at the Palace Theatre
SPAMALOT is a laugh-out-loud musical adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and is expertly directed for the stage by multi-award-winner Mike Nichols.
Written by original creator Eric Idle, the story is the very serious, stirring legend of King Arthur and his illustrious Knights of the Round Table. Sort of.
In this fantastical Camelot, the tale is retold in a way that only the Python team could imagine and, frankly, it would be disappointing if catapulted cows, deadly rabbits and fish-slapping weren't found to be entirely historically accurate.
Being a big Monty Python fan, I was fairly confident a stage version of The Holy Grail would be something I'd enjoy, but for the uninitiated: Python humour is juvenile, well-conceived silliness, so give this a try as long as you don't leave your funny bone at the door.
Since the show began, the leading role of Arthur, King of the Britons, has always been played by a famous face. In a moment of inspired casting, Arthur's crown was passed to Sanjeev Bhaskar, and a winning combination was formed. As the multi-talented star of several TV comedies, including his own hit creations Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No.42 (not forgetting the number 1 Comic Relief single Spirit in the Sky with Gareth Gates), Sanjeev is a quality comedy actor.
He is on stage the majority of the time and is clearly having a ball in a role he is perfect for; the comic-timing, singing and dancing all fitting him as seamlessly as his very hot, woolly, gold chain-mail costume. He successfully treads a fine line in putting just the right amount of amusing Bhaskar-isms into the act to make it worth him being cast, but at the same time not disrupting the essence of Arthur, or the show.
When required to be as daft on stage as this cast have to be, it is important to instil believability to the characters and this is achieved all round, with fine interaction between the leads and the ensemble.
An impressive fact to note is that of the actors in the near 30-strong cast, all but a couple play multiple roles.
Gerard Carey relishes the opportunity to perform the central character in the infamous 'I'm not dead' plague village scene, while coconut-clopping Andrew Spillett happily bears a resemblance to his on-screen counterpart Terry Gilliam in the role of Patsy.
Michael Xavier, a great talent steadily strengthening his romantic lead status, is well cast as the dashing Sir Galahad - a role which gratifyingly allows him to display finely tuned comedy muscles too.
John Cleese fans should be content with Jake Nightingale's interpretation of his roles from the film - The French Taunter is brilliantly funny, and Nightingale does well to honour his predecessor yet still make the role his own.
Nina Söderquist became The Lady of the Lake by winning a Swedish reality TV contest and her first soirée with musical theatre sees her pulling out the stops as a bright, brash diva with numbers including Diva's Lament, and a memorable duet with Xavier in The Song That Goes Like This.
And if you're hoping to hear the Python classic Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, you won't be disappointed.
Copious amounts of creative energy and cash have clearly gone into putting this production on stage; the amazing sets and costumes - including a giant wooden rabbit, castle turrets, and projections which deliver the recognisably cartoony Monty Python effects - are technically lavish and bold.
Spamalot offers a packed two hours of highly entertaining entertainment, certain to entertain (I'll stop that it's silly). [25cf] Sanjeev Bhaskar is currently appearing in Spamalot until October. Show closes January 2009. Performances 8pm Monday to Thursday; 5.15pm and 8.30pm Friday; 3pm and 8pm Saturday. Tickets £15-£55.