Nic Wright

Review: Spamalot, Sunderland Empire

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With the world and his wife clamoring for tickets to Monty Python’s reunion shows last year, it would seem a perfect time to once again take one of the Python’s most enduring works on the road.

Spamalot, adapted by Eric Idle from the troupe’s 1975 film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, premiered on Broadway a decade ago and featured an all-star cast. Several tours, awards and a few hundred million dollars later, the show was revived in the West End in 2012, and is now slap-bang in the middle of a UK tour.

Despite its international success, the production caused the Python’s some financial and legal difficulties, when in 2013 a court ruled that Mark Fostater, producer of Monty Python and The Holy Grail, was entitled to royalties from Spamalot, prompting the group to stage their recent shows at the O2 Arena in order to cover the legal bill.

And just as an air of lassitude and obligation hung about the aforementioned live shows, there’s a similar feeling to tonight’s revival production of Spamalot that perhaps they just shouldn’t have bothered.

Revamped, retooled and helmed by new director  Christopher Luscombe, this Spamalot 2.0 is lead by Joe Pasquale as King Arthur, and Pasquale’s son Joe Tracini as Arthur’s put-upon man-servant Patsy.

With its ribbing of musical clichés, lower-than-low-brow jokes and hazily repetitive musical numbers, Spamalot is at best a grown-up pantomime. Recycling chunks of Holy Grail, it plays out almost as Python-eoke; the jokes might have been funny once, but years later, chewed up and spit out in a B-Rate production, they feel jarring. Bent and shaped for a mainstream audience, and put dropped into a cheap and garish show, the jolly absurdity of the original material becomes mildly irritating, drawing only a rare and half-hearted smirk.

Pasquale’s attempts at ad-libbing are even worse, however, with even his fellow cast members looking sick as (late) parrots.

Where the comedy wavers, the music does little to hold things together; too-long, one-note jokes pad out the show’s two acts, but their self-awareness fails to keep them entertaining.

The final nail in Spamalot’s coffin is the casting. A Marmite performer if there ever was one, Pasquale displays none of the talents required to carry a musical comedy, though overall, he seems suited to the oddly dated, cheesy vibe of the production. Tracini fares a little better, with a fair knack for physical comedy and a gung-ho attitude.

A brief appearance by writer Eric Idle as God is as good as it gets.

Always look on the bright side of life, the cast tells us. In that case, at least Mark Forstater is making a bit of cash.

Date of live review: Monday 18 May 2015