Spamalot- A Fresh Take On Classic Comedy

Syllable invited me along as her ‘plus one’ on Sunday evening to attend the media performance of Spamalot, currently on at the Joburg Theatre. I had heard of the Broadway show a couple of times through the Internet, and to be honest, wasn’t really sure what to expect.

Here’s something that might explain a lot about me and my sometimes warped sense of humour: I was raised on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I could recite the ‘Philosopher’s Song’ by 9 years old, and knew the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch by heart by 7.

“Those were some questionable parenting skills”, you might say, to which I respond, “Your type make me puke. You vacuous, malodorous toffee-nosed pervert”.

It’s this kind of ardent, cult following that I think makes Monty Python’s skits and jokes so tricky to emulate and to build on. We all know all the words off by heart, but they are hard to hear coming out of the mouths of anyone other than the original Pythons.

But perhaps that’s just me being precious.

The Broadway show was written by Eric Idle, the penman behind most of Monty Python’s famous songs, so one would think that it would be in very much the same vein as the show, but there are some pretty big differences, I thought, for worse and for better.

Same same…

  • There are a lot of the original skits from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and other movies) and in the first half, and I’d say that these got bigger laughs from the audience than the new jokes and songs- again this could just be because we were all still acclimatising from ‘Full Fan Girl/Boy’ mode to just your regular, popular theatre-going audience.
  • Eric Idle, one of the original Pythons, makes a videotaped cameo as God. I suppose he did write the show…
  • Excellent comedic performances, great choreography and cleverly simple sets.

…but different

  • Michelle Botha’s scene-stealing turn as ‘The Lady of the Lake’ breaks the Python’s mould of just having girls for garnish. Her part is a funny, welcome addition to the adapted Holy Grail storyline.
  • There is a small nod towards the fact that the show is taking place in Johannesburg (‘Johan’s Borough’), but the largely unchanged dialogue and musical numbers are very… oh, how do I say this without sounding rude?… American. The constant references to “Broadway” started to rub me up the wrong way a bit after a while. And yes, I know it is technically a Broadway Show, but we’re not on Broadway… We’re on Civic Boulevard. Anyway, it’s very ‘sing-y’ (a criticism I also recently gave Les Misérables, so take it with as much salt as you like)
  • Some of the new numbers are even more un-PC than the original Pythons’ skits- and for that, they are glorious. Between the irreverent “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews)” and Lancelot’s coming-out bit, I thought these were some of the funniest moments in the show and some of the truest iterations of Monty Python’s peculiar style of comedy. The original films never shied away from controversy (Life of Brian, anyone?), but there is a modern relevance to these tongue-in-cheek numbers that gives them serious comic clout.

So should you go and see it?

If you are an avid Monty Python fan, you should go. But, go knowing that you may need to spend a little while reconciling your memories of the old with this version of the new (or maybe you only have to do this if you’re an old, crabby hag like me). The Theatre bar does serve big glasses of wine in sippy cups, so this goes some measure to help the transition.

The show, whether ‘proper’ Python or not, is still fun, funny, highly enjoyable, and a hell of a lot cheaper that actually going to the one on Broadway.

And if you are not a Monty Python fan… then I believe we’re done here… you festering pile of parrot droppings.