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Canberra Today 13°/15° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Director West says Monty Python still works

“Spamalot” cast members. Photo: Olivia Wenholz

MONTY Python’s “Spamalot” is without doubt one of the silliest musicals ever written.

“Spamalot” director Jarrad West… “British humour does so well at keeping things theatrical while things fall apart.”

A riff on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, it is almost unforgettable for the coconut shells banged together to make the sound of King Arthur’s horse galloping, the characterisation of a great hero as Dennis Galahad and the notorious “Fisch Schlapping Song”, all making mincemeat of the Arthurian legend.

Director of Free Rain Theatre’s coming production at The Q, Jarrad West, is certain that the Monty Python brand is still a viable one and not just one for the “dad-joke” generation and judging by the extraordinary audience in 2018 when Canberra Choral Society and the National Capital Orchestra staged “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)” to a packed house in Llewellyn Hall, he’s probably right.

West’s connection with this brand of comedy actually predates Python, going back to his youth in Perth. 

“At about age 13 or 14 some fellow theatricals put me on to the BBC radio show ‘I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again’,” he tells me. 

“That’s what got me into that style of humour. There was Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and John Cleese before The Goodies and Monty Python and it was so ridiculous.

“One of the sketches I loved was called ‘I Love to be Alone in the Country’, just the fact that you could hear that kind of thing was incredible.” 

It worked for West who says: “British humour does so well at keeping things theatrical while things fall apart.”

One of the standard jokes in “Spamalot”, he notes, is the stiff upper lip and that really sums up the character of King Arthur, who’s trying to keep the legend together, but is undercut by absurd and ludicrous situations.

“This show straddles the generations,” says West, arguing that the popularity of podcasts means that comedy is more accessible than ever and pointing to the cult following of “fake news” reporter Jonathan Pie (Tom Walker) on YouTube. 

There are younger people, he believes, who already know “Spamalot”, which became a musical in 2004. Maybe, he concedes, they didn’t see the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, but they certainly knew a couple of numbers, including “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, originally written by Eric Idle for the Python film “Life of Brian”. 

One of the things West loves about the show is seeing the knights of the round table in a big Broadway number like “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”.

“The songs are a loving send-up of that Broadway show-tune feeling that is dying now,” he says.

“CityNews” music writer Ian McLean, who says he’s never conducted “Spamalot” before, will conduct.

The music, which he describes as “a bit of spoof music, real take-off of many things but mostly jazz and big-band music”, was written in collaboration between Eric Idle and John Du Prez, except for “Finland”, (the “Fisch Schlapping Song”) which was written by Michael Palin. 

In order to “make it more interesting”, West will have 24 seats reserved on the stage of The Q so that select audience members can pay a bit more and get to participate. They’ll be given a “travel brief” on what to do and not to do before the show, and there’s room for the orchestra on stage as well, making McLean very happy. 

As for the style of the show, West says: “I hate to use the word ‘Brechtian’, but I want to give the show an exposed-theatre feel, maybe a bit like ‘The Rocky Horror Show’.”

“Spamalot”, The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, September 12-24.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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