03 June 2010

Spamalot - Wimbledon Theatre, Thursday 3rd June 2010

It is 932 A.D. in England, and King Arthur, joined by his servant Patsy, is riding through the land trying to find men to join his Round Table. Arthur is frustrated by several failed recruitment attempts, including one with an awfully resilient Black Knight, but his luck might not stay bad for long. In a near village, Sir Lancelot the Brave and Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot and decide to enlist in the army, because unlike some other villagers, they are not yet dead. Meanwhile, Arthur continues to look for able-bodied men, and soon finds Dennis Galahad and his mother, both of whom are politically active peasants that doubt Arthur is really a king. However, the Lady of the Lake, who is a temperamental diva and years earlier pronounced Arthur King of the Britons, is called upon to convince the doubting Dennis. The Lady ofthe Lake and Sir Galahad share an appropriately timed heart-felt moment It is not long before the King receives a quest from God himself to go in search of the Holy Grail, and they eventually make their way to Camelot There the Lady of the Lake encourages Arthur not to lose his way and the Knights set off once again on their quest. Now at their destination, the Knights are scared a gang of taunting French sentries.
After their defeat, at the castle, King Arthur is utterly disheartened, and having fled from the Frenchmen's taunting, the Knights find themselves scattered about in a dark and very expensive forest. King Arthur and Patsy stumble upon the most feared group in all the land, the Knights who say “Ni”. Though things seem rough, Patsy convinces Arthur all is not lost. Robin and his Minstrels are also making their way through the forest and soon join back with King Arthur. As a payment for passing the bridge they guard, the Knights who say "Ni" demand, as their second sacrifice, not another shrubbery but a Broadway musical from King Arthur and his Knights.
Elsewhere, the Lady of the Lake wonders why she has been left out of the quest while Prince Herbert, the son of the King of Swamp Castle, waits in his tower for his rescuer to come. Thankfully, luck is on Prince Herbert’s side, because Sir Lancelot arrives to save him from the clutches of his father.

Unable to complete his journey, King Arthur is thoroughly upset until the Lady of the Lake arrives to give him her final words of encouragement and he is able to go on. Before their journey is complete the Knights of the Round Table encounter a pyromaniac Enchanter called "Tim", and then must defeat the Killer Rabbit of Antioch with a new type of weapon for which they receive thorough operating instructions from Brother Maynard and the Monks. The Knights overcome these obstacles and by the end are celebrating with a Broadway wedding.

King Arthur: Graham MacDuff
Lady of the Lake: Jodie Prenger
Patsy: Todd Carty
Sir Bedevere/Dennis's Mother: Robin Armstrong
Sir Robin: Sam Holmes
Prince Herbert: David Langham
Sir Galahad: Simon Lipkin
God: Eric Idle

Creative Team:
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Set and Costumes: Hugh Durrant
Choreographer: Jenny Arnold
Lighting: Nick Richings

Marmite, peanut butter, Alan Titchmarsh, Monty Python - all things that divide people into two opposing camps. There is no middle ground on any of them - you either love them or you loathe them. I loathe them (all of them).  I've never really understood Python's so-called "humour" - its blokeish yet conversely of that slightly smug, privileged  "Oxbridge Footlights" feel.  Him Indoors knows I don't like it, so I really have no idea why he was so excited about getting tickets to see the touring version.  In Wimbledon. At a matinee performance. During half term.  On the hottest afternoon of the year. 

We theatregoers have to put up with all sorts of idiots in the audience.  The sweet paper rustlers.  The people in the middle of the row  who wait until half way through Act 1 before deciding that they should, in fact, have gone to the toilet before the show started. The mobile phone chatterer.  The pensioners unable to deal with the complex problem of finding their seats.  The over-excited child whose parent has no disciplinary control.  They were all there yesterday.  And now we have a new breed to contend with - The Bloke Showing Off With His Ipad. He was there too, in the row in front, grinning like a new father and self-consciously playing with his new penis extension in the hope that another nearby anorak will whistle "kewl!" and ask to have a go.

So I wasn't really in the greatest of moods when the curtain went up.  And neither was I in the greatest of moods when the curtain came down again, having sat through 2 and a bit hours of the most puerile rubbish I've seen since - well, a couple of weeks ago, really.  It was like being at a riotous party where everyone else spoke a different language and you found yourself standing in the corner with a glass of warm Riesling and counting the peanuts in a bowl on a nearby table.  I tried and tried and tried to understand what everyone else was howling at, but all I could see was a slightly tatty panto with a puerile script, in which all the actors on stage seemed to be trying to make each other corpse by rolling their eyes and gurning at each other while regularly throwing ad-libs into their lines.  I'm sure this must be fun to do but it wasn't fun to watch. 

Having looked at pictures of the original London and Broadway productions (bugger only knows what the Americans must have thought of the show; I hope to god they didn't think all English humour was like that), its obvious that this is a really cheap touring production of what must have been quite a spectacularly staged show. One-and-a-bit sets does all.  A lot of what were apparently quite sophisticated references to the musical genre have been jettisoned (apparently, The Lady of the Lake sang her entrance number in  a gothic boat surrounded by mist, parodying Phantom of the Opera, for instance. This has disappeared, so we are left with just the song and bugger the irony).   The cast have been cut down to the utter minimum - all but two of the cast are somebody else's understudy, with most people understudying two roles.  What it must be like when there's a bad case of the squitters running through the company is anybody's guess.  The female chorus now numbers only 2; subsequently they have to change their costumes every 13.7 seconds and be a peasant, mermaid, knight or whatever with barely time to stagger into the wings, have a quick draw on a cigarette and strip to their scanties before donning something else and staggering back on again. Its a pale shadow of its former self, chucked onto the road to make Mr. Idle a quick buck. 

This show also got my goat because of its "comedy gay element" (for those of you not in the know, Sir Lancelot discovers a letter from what he thinks is a damsel in distress, only to find that the damsel is a show-tune singing Queen of a different kind.  Lancelot then strips to a spangly jock strap and "comes out" to a HiNRG club anthem).  Stuff like this really is incredibly dated.  I'm sure it was just about par for the course  in 1975 when the film version hit the screen - a time when "jokes" about blacks, gays, mothers in law and comedy foreigners were all the rage, but its inclusion in a modern show just proves that, essentially, for all our vine-ripened tomatoes, ethically sourced washing powder and low-alcohol lager, there is still a "caveman" element to humour that thinks jokes about queers are still acceptable.  And, even worse, hysterically funny.  I'm sorry, I'm not buying into this.  It's a throwback to the "backs to the wall, lads" pub 'humour' that should have died out in this country decades ago.  It may have been funny (to a certain section of society) in 1975 but it isn't funny now.  Its just lazy and offensive.  It ain't funny.

By all means go and see this show if you're a 40-something heterosexual male who delights in getting tanked up with the lads and endlessly repeating "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy" in a high pitched voice, a smack-head student who thinks that endlessly quoting The Parrot Sketch passes for wit, or a hassled parent desperate for a summer panto to entertain their kids with.  Or indeed, A Bloke Who Wants To Show Off Your New Ipad.  This might just be about your level.  Me?  I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than sit through this puerile rubbish again. 

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