REVIEW: Spamalot, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, May 23

The cast of Monty Python's Spamalot at the Sunderland Empire including Sarah Earnshaw, Joe Tracini and Joe Pascquale
The cast of Monty Python's Spamalot at the Sunderland Empire including Sarah Earnshaw, Joe Tracini and Joe Pascquale

This is one show you will watch with a permanent grin on your face – guaranteed – that is when you’re not crying with laughter or singing along to the songs.

I chuckled from the opening scene to curtain close – it brought back such happy memories of the Monty Python boys in their absolute pomp.

The Monty Python-inspired stage show Spamalot.

The Monty Python-inspired stage show Spamalot.

With its silly, schoolboy humour, daft accents, killer bunnies, shrubberies and dancing nuns, Spamalot rides an imaginary horse roughshod over political correctness – and there’s even cameo appearances by Ant and Dec, Susan Boyle and Mary Berry (well, it looked like them!).

It’s a musical, yes, but more a parody (to put it politely) of all those dire, formulaic musicals that have been trotted out over the years.

Back in the day, 1975 to be precise, the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the inspiration for Spamalot, provided this young fellow and his mates with an endless stream of comic scenes to recreate and one-liners to repeat.

‘We are the knights who say Ni’; ‘Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries’; ‘I fart in your general direction’ to name but three.

Joe Tracini is starring in Spamalot alongside his dad, Joe Pasquale, at the Sunderland Empire.

Joe Tracini is starring in Spamalot alongside his dad, Joe Pasquale, at the Sunderland Empire.

In fact, I had grown up with Python.

The wacky, irreverent, ground-breaking and, frankly, bizarre comedy series hit TV screens in 1969.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus was required viewing in our living-room. It spanned five years and spawned a host of spin-offs, including the classic movies Holy Grail, Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983).

The team, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, who concocted, wrote and performed all of the material, became household names.

Trot along to the Sunderland Empire to see Spamalot.

Trot along to the Sunderland Empire to see Spamalot.

I found their brand of comedy irresistible on all levels. It ticked every box – slapstick, madcap, incisive, inventive, black and just plain silly.

I had always wondered how such a classic film, which vaguely follows the story of King Arthur and his quest to find the Holy Grail, would transfer to the stage and that is probably the reason why I hadn’t seen it until now – I didn’t want to spoil those lovingly and indelibly stamped memories.

But not only did Eric Idle’s theatrical adaptation do the movie justice, it enhanced and improved it and gave it a fresh lease of life. It stuck pretty much to the film script but with some extra tunes and some much-appreciated local references thrown in.

There were many outstanding performances from a multi-talented cast at Sunderland last night.

The show’s stalwarts Joe Pasquali and his son Joe Tracini, as King Arthur and his Baldrick-like side-kick Patsy, were endearing, lovable, funny and a great double-act.

Pasquali’s brilliant ad-libbed quips, particularly when a member of the audience was invited/dragged on stage, even had the cast in stitches, while Tracini’s rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side (borrowed from Life of Brian) brought the house down – and he can really pull some shapes on the dance floor!

The rest certainly played their part in entertaining us. Vocally, Sarah Earnshaw was amazing as The Lady of the Lake, and she was suitably disaffected when the plot didn’t go her way.

Her male-dominated cohorts switched characters and genders effortlessly, each having three or four parts.

Richard Kent was worth the ticket price alone for his camp-as-Christmas Prince Herbert, complete with a stunning falsetto voice as part of an incredible range. Richard Meek was hilarious as the only-slightly-more-butch Sir Dennis Galahad and the Black Knight, who came to a sticky, limbless end.

Will Hawksworth, as cowardly Sir Robin, Jamie Tyler, as Sir Lancelot, and Josh Wilmot as a great Sir Bedevere and an even better Mrs Galahad, with typical, Python-esque, squeaky tones, all deserved their places at the Round Table of song-and-dance excellence.

The plot was thin and random and the set more suited to panto than West End musical but it all worked so well.

As I left the Empire, Spamalot’s feel-good factor had given me a spring in my step and a perma-grin that will be hard to budge. My mum has seen the show three times – now I understand why. What’s the number of the box office?

Spamalot opened last night (Monday) at the Empire at 7.30pm and runs every evening until Saturday, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm. For tickets, visit the Sunderland Empire booking site.