Review: King Joe makes you laugh-a-lot

There are no Silly Walks, no Spanish Inquisitions or a Dead Parrot sketch, but there’s no denying that Spamalot is one of the funniest shows around. Whether you loved or hated the original anarchic Monty Python Flying Circus show, it certainly changed humour in a way that no other has done before or since, writes Alan Wooding.
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Previewing as a stage show in Chicago in 2004 before its Broadway launch a year later, Spamalot finally hit the London scene in 2006 after picking up a whole host of showbiz awards.

Eleven years on, it once again features the loveable Joe Pasquale as King Arthur – after all, he was crowned King of the Jungle in television’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’.

And while Joe has had several turns at playing the role of the King in the West End, his performance at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday night was as fresh as ever while he spends half the show laughing at himself.

The 53-year-old Joe is brilliant in the part with those ‘well reheased’ ad-libs while his comical high-pitched voice only helps make the most of his stage presence – although he’s hardly what you would call a singer or dancer!

It was Python member Eric Idle who wrote the original Spamalot book while he enlisted the help of his long time collaborator John Du Prez to pen the show’s catchy musical score.

The show is really – although somewhat loosely! – a rip off from the Python’s classic 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail... but as Eric also co-wrote that, who really cares!

It’s full of Pythonesque humour with those rattling coconut shells making the clippety-clop, clippety-clop sound of the horse’s hooves as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table set off once again in search of the Holy Grail.

As good as Joe is, the star of the show for me was probably Sarah Earnshaw as the sassy Lady of the Lake. Sarah also reprised her role from the West End production while she is something of a comic turn.

Hers is a demanding part yet she is never phased as she sings her heart out. She also has the audience in raptures as she exaggerates every line and note, especially in the Second Act with ‘The Diva’s Lament’.

Joe’s actor son, Joe Tracini, is also in the show as Patsy, the hapless manservant of King Arthur. He’s perhaps better known as Dennis Savage from the tv soap Hollyoaks and while he seems to be on stage quite a bit, he only gets a handful of lines.

However he does get to sing the iconic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of the Life’ even though there are no crucifixion crosses this time around.

There’s a couple of beautiful show girls, a killer white rabbit and a plague cart on which the local dead peasants are heaped. However when Not Dead Fred (Richard Kent), Sir Lancalot (Jamie Tyler) and Sir Robin (Will Hawksworth) burst into song with the catchy ‘He’s Not Dead Yet’ early in the opening act, it brings a huge round of applause from the show’s many fans who have clearly seen it elsewhere several times.

The opening number, ‘The Fisch Schlapping Song’, is a hoot with those fish-slapping Finlanders – I thought you said Englanders! – while Sir Dennis Galahad (Richard Meek) and the Lady of the Lake’s ‘The Song That Goes Like This’ has a real touch of Disney about it.

Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville makes a cameo screen appearance as God who orders Arthur to go and search for the Holy Grail – the full company then sing ‘Find Your Grail’ – while my favourite numbers were Prince Herbert’s ‘Where Are You?’ (Richard Kent again this time with a passable falsetto voice) and Sir Robin (Will Hawksworth again) with ‘You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz’ which throws in plenty of up-to-date material plus a Milton Keynes reference.

I really liked Josh Wilmott’s portrayal of old Mrs Galahad, Dennis’ mum. He was a dead ringer for Brian’s mother in the Python’s classic ‘Life of Brian’ and I was fully expecting him to say those immortal words: ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’

The colourful set is well used while Christopher Luscombe’s stage direction is probably only loosely followed as the actors all seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Meanwhile the six musicians under the direction of keyboard playing Jamie Dunsmore were excellent.

Spamalot provides two hours (less a 20 minute interval) of pure silliness and is more along the lines of a traditional pantomime. Meanwhile for all the Python fans, they finally get to sing along to ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of the Life’ although I was a little disappointed not to hear a rendition of ‘Spam, Spam, Wonderful Spam’! Surely that’s what it was all about?

If you want to get the best from the show, then just enter the theatre in a silly frame of mind and don’t take it too seriously, that way you’re sure to have a cracking good evening. In fact Spamalot should make you Laugh-a-lot!

The show plays Milton Keynes until this Saturday (20 June) with tickets costing from £10.50 to £36.50 (booking fees apply) which can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652 or by visiting