Dates and Venue 3 – 27July 2008 Tues–Sat evenings @ 8pm, Sun evening @ 7:30pm. Sat and Sun @ 2pm matinees | The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts

Reviewer John Jane

Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman have a lot to answer for. When they brought Monty Python’s Flying Circus to the BBC back in 1969 they didn’t just raise the bar on English self-parody, anomalous little words have since crept into the English language lexicon and international relations between Britain and France may never return to normal.

Stepping into “The Centre” last night for the opening performance of Spamalot, you just knew you couldn’t be anywhere else but at a Monty Python show. The cartoon-esque set consisted of a mock drawbridge reaching up to the top of the stage visually disappearing into blue-ish styrofoam “clouds” and flanked on each side by “stone” turrets that were wider at the top than at their base.

Spamalot, as we all know by now from seeing the advertising, is a musical that is "lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The storyline, such as it is, is loosely based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail. Eric Idle wrote the book and collaborated on those raucous witty songs with John Du Prez.

The show gets moving with "Fisch Schlapping Song” – which is completely out of context with the show’s historical theme. After the narrator reminds the “less-than-sharp” chorus that “it’s a story of England – not Finland” the show continues with its off-beat telling of the legend of Camelot – oops, Spamalot.

Monty Python is not without a certain cult following. Many in the audience knew the material well and applauded vigorously the entrance of some of their favourite characters.

Many of the show’s routines display ground-breaking stagecraft. The battle in which King Arthur, played with majestic wry humour by Gary Beach, severs both the Black Knight’s arms at the shoulder. The Black Knight stubbornly continues fighting until Arthur severs his legs, leaving the pertinacious knight’s torso impaled to a door, still insisting that the result of the sword-fight be a tie. Sure, it sounds pretty gruesome, but believe me, the scene was hilarious.

Spamalot doesn’t focus its biting humour on a single satiric target, but Broadway is often the butt of self-referential fun-poking. Ben Davis, as a newly appointed Sir Galahad and the gorgeous Esther Stilwell, as Lady of the Lake send-up every Broadway show-stopper ever heard with sublime rendition of "The Song That Goes Like This."

This touring production boasts no household names in its large cast (unless you count the recorded voice of John Cleese as God). It’s a true ensemble performance where everyone gets to play a part. Nigel Columbus, deputizing for Patrick Heusinger on opening night has four roles.

The show finished with an audience/cast sing-a-long of the Monty Python unofficial anthem “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” This is a musical that truly lives up to its mantra. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

© 2008 John Jane