If you are the type to spend hours pondering life’s great questions such as what really IS the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, then chances are you’ve either seen Spamalot, heard of Spamalot, or just eaten Spam. A lot. (Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam… oh well, you get it.)
And if you don’t get it, in which case you probably think I’ve cracked after reading one too many press releases and have finally started barking at the moon, then you’ve clearly never seen the anarchic and irreverent genius that was the Monty Python’s Flying Circus and their cache of spin off films, most pertinently 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was turned into a 2005 Broadway production – Spamalot – by original Python member Eric Idle, and is now touring nationally, with a stop or five at Gold Coast’s own HOTA in March.
The musical (loosely) centres around the story of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail and features the usual suspects such as Guinevere, Lancelot, the Lady of the Lake and Camelot, but any reference to the original legends pretty well ends there, as much musical nonsense, gender-bending burlesque, killer rabbits and general silliness take over. We caught up with one of the show’s versatile stars, actor Rob Johnson, to talk about all things Spamalot ahead of the show’s hilarious run.
Were you and the cast all Python fans before starting?
I think so but to varying degrees. I have always personally been a very big Python fan, but there are others in the cast who I think only saw the film once they knew they were involved in the project, which helps, because it’s good to have a knowledge and appreciation of the vibe that is Monty Python but that’s not too married to it or overly reverent. We need to be able to let go and look really dumb (laughs).
Tell me a bit about the character(s) you play.
Fans of the film will recognise Prince Herbert, a lovesick prince who lives in a swamp castle who wants to sing his heart out. Also a minstrel called Sir Robin and the narrator, it’s incredible, we run on stage, do a bunch of gags, run off, costume change, run back on.
That’s not what the original production was like though, was it? With cast members playing so many different roles?
No! in fact it’s sort of the opposite, Eric Idle wanted the Broadway production to be almost embarrassingly over the top, high quality, a big ensemble – the film is so low budget and so scrappy, it was weird, but he wanted to do it the opposite way.
So doing it like this, with just eight people, is it a real Richard (Carroll, Director) touch then?
Oh yes, absolutely! Richard previously did a production of Calamity Jane that I was in and it was the same, he wanted to make it more collaborative, more urgent, that feeling of needing each other’s help, needing your [the audience’s] help, here, grab this bit of cardboard and this prop, what’s this next bit, like it’s constantly unfolding like that feeling where you’re running down that hill so fast that if you fall, you’ll die – it’s a controlled version of that on the stage. Barely getting away with it. But we do! Richard said in his communications with Eric he was like “go for it man, do it!”
Why should people come and see Spamalot?
It’s just so much fun, and it’s so funny. There’s a lot of really good theatre out there that has a very strong agenda and it’s like ‘come here we’re going to tell you this story and make a serious point and make you think about this kind of issue and go home and have a conversation and learn’, and sometimes it’s such a joy to go out and know before you even get to the theatre that you are going to relax, enjoy, exhale, just laugh, there’s not even a doubt you’re going to find this funny, and just not worry about anything for two hours, and feel really happy at the end. The only point of this is that, and I think that’s a selling point.
Well! Sold. See you at the theatre, folks. Spamalot runs over five matinee and evening performances from 5 to 7 March at HOTA. Tickets and further details over at hota.com.au. And no doubt the production will have an extra touch of nostalgia with the recent, very sad passing of the immortal, warm, hilarious genius that was original Python member Terry Jones. Vale, Terry.
This production of Monty Python’s Spamalot contains:
strobe lighting; theatrical haze and smoke effects; adult language; historical inaccuracies; audience interaction; a disco ball; wandering accents; simulated violence [unconvincing]; mime; things you can slip on; Rob Johnson; at least seven songs; more audience interaction; and actors performing choreography. Also, a bit with a rabbit.
You have been warned