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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Palace Theatre, London

By John Nathan

  Hanna Waddingham

For the British it is a strange notion that London audiences may not appreciate Monty Python as much as their New York counterparts.

After all, if there is one ingredient that marks out the Pythons from all other chapters in comedic history, it is British eccentricity.

But it was to Broadway - via Chicago - that Python Eric Idle (book and lyrics) first took his stage version of the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". And the concern was that a show that had been tailored to American tastes might not entirely suit British palates when it arrived in London. 

As it turns out, there is only one section of the musical - in the second act - that is more suited to New York than London.  But by then, Python's humour - more naughty than subversive - has long since won the day and established its credentials as a hilarious antidote to the melodrama of modern musicals. To borrow a phrase from the show, "Spamalot" "farts in the general direction" of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The period and place, as described by the Historian narrator, is not-so-merry medieval England, where pestilence and plague is rife.  Cue a chorus of patriotic Fins in national dress who launch into the Fish Schlapping Song - apparently a favorite anthem in Finland.  "I said England", yells the narrator.

We're suddenly in a place of kitsch castles and, Terry Gilliam-style clouds (design Tim Hately) where Tim Curry's plummy King Arthur is on a recruitment drive for his knights of the round table.

The beknighted crew consist of Christopher Sieber's Sir (Dennis) Galahad, all hair-flicking vanity, Tom Goodman-Hill's closet-gay Sir Lancelot and Robert Hands's weak-bladdered Sir Robin.

The circular symbol of egalitarianism is revealed as a roulette wheel; Curry's sardonic and mild mannered monarch as a bit of a hedonist, and Camelot is an early version of Vegas complete with Laker girls and Hanna Waddingham's spot-on parody of a scat singer.

Along with John Du Prez's and Idle's music, Waddingham's Lady of the Lake is equally disrespectful - and accurate - with her portrayal of Lloyd-Webber style divas.

Arthur's God-given purpose - otherwise known as the plot - is to find the Holy Grail. John Cleese provides the Lord's testy voice and the odyssey sees them encounter the Knights who say "Ni" who won't let them pass unless they put on a West End show.

It's here that Mike Nichols's production betrays its Broadway origins with the number You Won't Succeed - which is to say that you won't succeed in showbiz unless you've got Jews. The male chorus goes all Chasidic and, led by Arthur's sidekick Patsy (David Birrell), dance the hora until the biggest Star of David in Christendom descends.

The truism about Jews and showbiz is truer for New York than it is for the West End, so it doesn't quite translate to the London stage where it comes across as a rather eccentric rule of thumb. But so what. Complaining about eccentricity in Monty Python is like criticizing The Producers for bad taste.


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