The Spamalot star says it’s all fun and games until somebody dies horribly.
The hilarious musical Spamalot is on its way to Brisbane, bringing the cult 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the stage as it follows King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table on a jaunty quest to find the renowned relic.
It also pokes fun at cow-flinging, fish-slapping and mass plague related deaths. If that makes you a little sad or uncomfortable, then you’re not alone. Spamalot star Frank Woodley, who plays Sir Robin, admits it can be a little depressing but advises us not to think very hard about it.
“Just today we were doing the ‘bring out the dead scene’ and I think it’s just fascinating how we can find that so funny. It’s like that phrase ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’,” he says. “This is a comic scene about the plague and if you let your imagination actually go there it’s just devastating.
“But because it was so long ago we have this distance, so we can elevate it to a sublime, inappropriate, cathartic comedy.
“There was a very interesting thing with The Chaser boys a few years ago, when they did the skit about the Make A Wish Foundation and they ended up having to apologise on air because people were so offended by that. Of course anybody who has a sick child will open up their imagination to what that really means and there’s nothing funny about that. But then, there’s nothing funny about the plague either.
“On the telly this morning the Ebola virus was being discussed — also not funny, because it’s happening now. There’s this interesting thought that if you can just take a step back you can use a different part of your brain and distance those feelings.”
The comedian, who is best known as one half of the comedy duo Lano and Woodley, admits that after years on the stage he still struggles between saying what is right and what is just plain funny.
“I’ve been doing comedy for almost 30 years and still I don’t really know how to negotiate that issue between suffering and empathy,” he says. “I still don’t think I know that line between tragedy and comedy.
“All the time I have to pull myself back. Whenever I’m doing comedy there’s a little gremlin or a little devil on my shoulder that’s saying to me ‘you know what would be really funny…..’ but then there’s the angel on your other shoulder saying ‘no! The audience will turn on you like a pack of wolves if you say that.”
Harvest Rain Theatre Company and QPAC’s production of Spamalot will also reunite Australian entertainment icons Jon English and Simon Gallaher, celebrating 30 years since their first pairing in The Pirates of Penzance, in the roles of King Arthur and Patsy. Australia’s most beloved and awarded female singer, Julie Anthony will also take to the stage as the Lady of the Lake.
Spamalot is on from October 2-5 at the QPAC Concert Hall. For more info, visit our event guide.