by Hans ten Cate
Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Ticket sales for London's production of Monty Python's Spamalot, at the Palace Theatre, began on 21 February 2006

Tickets are now officially on sale for the highly anticipated West End premiere of Monty Python's Spamalot, which will play its first performance at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End on October 2nd, with press night on October 16th and opening night on October 17th.

Ticket sales began on February 21, a day that was marked by a grand event at the Palace Theatre, presided by Eric Idle himself. On stage at the Theatre the press were entertained by 40 minutes of comedy, songs, and sketches, complete with pre-launch entertainment by The Cosmic Sausages, a musical quartet attired in Bermuda shirts, performing 'Zorba The Greek,' 'Like A Virgin' and 'Born To Be Wild.'

Rather than a traditional Q&A press conference, Eric Idle treated the press to some of his stand-up comedy, a few songs, and dancing girls dressed in Copacabana outfits. Amid the joking, Idle stressed the musical's American success: “With 83% of all musicals failing on Broadway, Spamalot is a hit,” he said. “It made its money back in seven months, which is a record... We are now bringing it to London to see if you will fall for the same thing.”

Eric Idle attends the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Palace Theatre, where Spamalot will begin its run on October 2nd

Idle was accompanied on stage by members of the creative team, including composer and Python collaborator John Du Prez at the piano (and who himself accepted the Grammy award for Spamalot's cast recording earlier that month). Idle pointed out that although Spamalot won three Tony Awards, “the two people [Idle and Du Prez] who wrote the show, who wrote the lyrics, the book, got fuck all. But we’re not bitter because firstly we’re British and we’re used to disappointment, secondly we’re used to getting ripped off by the Yanks and thirdly, I have the support of a wonderful woman – my chemist. £300 at Boots can go an awfully long way.”

The team then provided an example of “the very expensive special effects” – a man walking across the stage with coconut shells making horse hoof noises – followed by an example of “the very expensive costumes” – a woman in underwear. The show's official dancers weren’t there, so Casey Nicholaw (introduced as the “non-Tony Award winning” choreographer) gave a personal demonstration of the dance routines. Tim Hatley, the set and costume designer, thrilled the crowd with some polariod pictures of the Spamalot set, then demonstrated the lighting by shining a torch on the polaroids. “I’m sure that helps you understand where the $13 million went,” said Idle. He then asked the producer of the show, Bill Haber, to join him on stage. “Bill is going to show us how to sign a cheque;” which Haber demonstrated by signing a cheque on Idle’s back. “The rarest of sights,” explained Idle, “a Broadway producer actually signing a cheque.”

Eric Idle and showgirls in front of the Palace Theatre

Mike Nichols, winner of the Tony Award for directing Spamalot, was in New York but sent over his “second favourite wheelchair” for the occasion and recorded a short video to accompany it. “He shamelessly got his Tony by spreading the rumour he was dying,” explained Idle. The video showed Nichols, bent over in a wheelchair (presumably his favourite) attended by busty nurse, commenting on how happy he was that the show was opening in Canada.

Having sung The Penis Song a little earlier in proceedings, Idle picked up his guitar for the grand finale and led the audience and members on stage in a rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

Reporters asked Idle why he chose to launch the musical in New York, rather than in London. Idle said that the British critics have not been kind to his previous works, so he wanted to make sure that they wouldn't “beat (my) life's work with big pointy sticks” and besides, “I went away to make a fortune in the United States wherethe people are less discerning, and the critics are more easily bribed.” The team is taking the London show very seriously, however; “In America it was 'oh gosh, I hope it works.' Here it's kind of important it works,” Idle said. “It's a fun show that I think the Brits will enjoy. There's not a lot like this on, where you can go just thinking, 'I've had such a bad day, bad week, I'm going to sit there and have a good laugh.'”

Eric Idle poses with dancers and Hannah Waddingham, who will portray the Lady of the Lake in the London version of Spamalot

At the event, Eric also got to reveal the morning's biggest news: “It’s time for the Arthur Award – who will play King Arthur? The envelope please. And the winner is – there are two Arthurs. From Janurary 2007, King Arthur will be played by Simon Russell Beale. In October, here at the Palace, seats at all prices, Arthur will be played by Tim Curry.” This will mark Curry's first appearance on the London stage in over 20 years. It was also announced that West End musicals performer Hannah Waddingham will play The Lady of the Lake, David Birrell plays Patsy, Tom Goodman-Hill plays Sir Lancelot and Robert Hands, Sir Robin. Further casting will be announced at a later date.

Meanwhile, outside the line for tickets snaked around the theater. In front, the theater was decked out with Spamalot scenery, including a huge inflatable Python foot on top of the front marquee. There were actors dressed as serfs, stopping passers-by to demand matches to set fire to a witch. "I'm not really a witch," the woman with the false nose insisted. Knights on imaginary horses clacked coconuts and cantered past the growing queue. Monks in hooded robes held giant signs saying 'Grail sale.'

Eric Idle and actress Hannah Waddingham handed out Spam sandwiches. The first 100 ticket holders also received special gift bags containing, among other things, a Spamalot umbrella, Spamalot coconuts, a promotional can of SPAM, flyers, and posters.