As you may know, this is a stage musical based on the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, which has the blessing of the remaining Pythons, though it’s mainly (and when you see it, pretty clearly) an Eric Idle-steered item. It’s done well on Broadway, and now it’s transferring to the West End of London, as is Tim Curry, who plays King Arthur.
So, what’s it like? Well, it’s a mix of bits from the film and new bits – a few new songs, expanded versions of favourites like the title song, and new plot-type bits. Overall, it’s pretty good, but it doesn’t truly hang together as a story as well as the original film does.
Notably good are some of the new songs, especially ‘This is the song that goes like this’, a great parody of the big romance numbers that all big musicals seem to feature, and the song about needing more Jews involved to get ahead in musicals (though this feels considerably less relevant in the UK than I’ll wager it did in the USA). And the sets are very good, and there’s quite clever use of Gilliamesque animated bits (the picture above is the animated ‘Trojan Rabbit’ which appears on the interval curtain, for example).
Less good is … well, the thing is, because there are whole scenes which are lifted directly from the film, Python fans will be used to hearing them performed in a particular way, and whilst it’s perfectly understandable that the cast want to make the parts feel their own, or to vary them when they’re doing so many performances, bits like the Knights of Ni, Constitutional Peasant, the Black Knight and French Taunter are so well- known and well-loved (and rightly – for my money, Holy Grail’s one of the funniest films there is), that hearing them performed by other people, with different emphases and inflections just feels wrong – like overhearing someone reciting Python in the pub or on the train, if you know what I mean. It has the unfortunate side-effect of making it feel almost like a student review version of the material, and that’s not really what you want from a West End show.
That said, there are some nice jokes, the staging’s really very good, Curry holds it all together well, there are enough in-jokes to keep Python fans happy, and there are new audio bits from Idle (introducing) and Cleese (as the voice of God). I have to accept that (my ongoing quest to spot the Pythons notwithstanding), this is probably about as close as I’ll ever get to seeing Monty Python live, and as it’s a fun night out, I’d cautiously recommend it; cautiously, as you have to accept it’s NOT the Pythons, but once you do that, it’s really pretty good.
Of course, as it’s currently in Preview, it may well be that the critics will slate it when it opens ‘officially’ (after all, the member of Python are revered throughout the western world, but particularly in the UK, so there might be cries of ‘what have they done to our Python?’ or the like), so it might close quickly and you might not get a chance to see it, should you so choose. Or, it might be hyper-well-received (as I gather it was in the USA), and so tickets will sell out well in advance, so you might not be able to get tickets before 2008… now do you see why I decided to go to the Preview?