See, if I told the story linearly, it'd start out really boring and you'd lose interest by the time I got to the interesting part. But now that I've teased you with that, I'll backtrack a bit.
I went to see Spamalot this week, the stage musical lovingly ripped off from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And it was good fun. Not every set-piece that was lifted straight from the movie worked perfectly, but a lot of them did and were nice to revisit. Things like the Black Knight battle were executed rather well, and the original material (mostly the songs) was inventive and fun. I thought Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life was crowbarred in rather awkwardly, but I can see how some people might feel cheated if they've paid money to go to a Monty Python musical and don't get to whistle along with that, even if it's from completely the wrong film. The cast all did a superb job, too.
It's not been universally acclaimed, especially by some fans who think it betrays the Python spirit. Towards the end of the show, I was reminded of one particular criticism I'd read ages ago in an online review. When encountering Tim the Enchanter, one of Arthur's team says, "'Tim'? That's not a very scary name."
The reviewer rightly pointed out that this line wasn't in the film, and seems to needlessly and laboriously explain the joke, and he cited this as representative of the way the stage show entirely misses the point of the madcap creativity of the original Python gang.
A part of me can sort of see the point, but I wanted to defend it in some ways too. I'm not sure that Spamalot ought to be a piece of avant-garde, surrealist humour in the way that Monty Python's Flying Circus was, and it's perhaps best that it wasn't really trying to be. It's aiming, rather sensibly, to be an accessible and family-friendly (the occasional swear word notwithstanding) musical comedy. It's funny, and whimsical, and nicely self-aware, but doesn't feel the need to be dangerously subversive or anarchic all the time.
I suppose you could ask, if you want to make a show that's funny and whimsical but not especially subversive or surreal or avant-garde, why you'd choose Monty Python as a basis for it. I'm just not sure it matters so much. I thought it was quite fun, is all.
Anyway. Towards the end of the show, Arthur and his knights do the bit where they defeat the killer rabbit with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, and they then find the word "Done" carved onto the cave wall. (You really don't need a spoiler warning for any of this. I mean, come on.) They speculate on what this could mean for a while, until one of them suggests: "Maybe it's supposed to be read as 'D one'," at which point I started praying rather fervently to nobody in particular that they weren't going where I thought they were going with this, because I knew what seat number I was sitting in.
After a while they realise what this means, and then suddenly there's a spotlight pointing at me, and King Arthur's faithful servant Patsy (played by Tucker from Grange Hill, if that's a reference that means anything to you) is running over to "find" the Holy Grail beneath my seat. (He actually brought it over himself, dropped it by my feet, then lifted it up in "discovery".) And there was much rejoicing.
And then I'm being told to go up on stage to celebrate my glorious achievement. And I'm shaking hands with and being congratulated by most of the cast, except King Arthur, who understandably doesn't want to be touched by an unwashed peasant. And I was told that I'd won the Best Peasant award for my services, and given a certificate signed by King Arthur to prove it. And also a tin of spam. And I had my photo taken with the cast, and tried to look proud and honoured but humble as they crowded round me facing the audience and sang the not-quite-closing number about how the Grail had been found with my help.
And it was all a bit terrifying but rather good. I just decided to go along with it and not think too hard about what would happen if they asked me to do anything I really wouldn't be able to handle, but it was mostly just a matter of standing in the right place. And then I went back to my seat, and Marcus commented on my rather scruffy check shirt and cargo shorts ("It's always nice when people dress up to go to the theatre, isn't it?"), and people laughed, and I laughed, and there was another closing sing-along to Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, and that was more or less it. A few people congratulated me on my excellent peasanting on the way out.
And there we are. If I can persuade my scanner to work again at some point, I'll show you the photo. It doesn't look that bad, considering.
I'm off into London to see Penn & Teller in a couple of weeks. I plan to be hidden very discreetly in the middle of the audience for that one.