SARAH Harlington, who plays The Lady of the Lake in the absurdly comic show, tells EDWIN GILSON about adapting the Python humour for the stage

ACTING in a Monty Python show seems like a hoot – but the joy is heightened when you loved the comedy troupe while growing up. Sarah Harlington’s role in Spamalot, the farcical play written by Python member Eric Idle, is the gratifying endpoint of her lifelong fandom.

“They’re such time-honoured pioneers of British comedy they couldn’t be avoided in our house,” laughs the actress, whose previous roles include the smash hit puppet show Avenue Q.

“My parents would watch repeats of The Flying Circus and of course I know all the words to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

When it came to research for the production, Harlington was pretty well set. Having watched Python films Life of Brian and The Holy Grail as a child, she says “it hardly felt like work” when she revisited them before auditioning for the role.

For Spamalot, Eric Idle “lovingly ripped off” The Holy Grail, which was released in 1975. If anyone has the right to emulate the plot of the movie it’s Idle, who started writing scripts for the beloved Python television series in the late 1960s.

Spamalot loosely follows King Arthur as he travels with the knights of the round table on a mission to locate the holy grail. Needless to say, he is regularly waylaid on his quest by a series of brilliant bonkers plot twists. Harlington says Python’s hardcore fans will be won over by the the play, which has had runs on the West End and Broadway.

“The comedy and brilliance of Spamalot derives from the original film and Python sense of humour,” she says, “and I believe as long as a production remains true to that it will be a success.

“The creative team of our show were keen to uphold the Pythonesque spirit that so many people know and love.” But doesn’t replicating the work of such a legendary comedy group come certain pressures?

“To some degree, as diehard fans can quote scenes verbatim which leaves little room for error,” laughs Harlington. “However, my role is an addition as The Lady of the Lake was never featured in the original film, which means in some ways the pressure is off.”

Harlington’s character appears from a lake to present Arthur with Excalibur. She becomes his guide and helps him on his quest to the holy grail – but she’s also a “huge diva” in Harlington’s words.

“She is most disgruntled that the knights are getting more time on stage than her,” says the actress, who is enjoying belting out the various musical numbers The Lady of the Lake takes on. “I get the chance to stomp around the claim the spotlight for myself,” she adds. “I would never get away with that in any other show.”

In such a topsy-turvy production, with slapstick comedy around every corner, Harlington admits the show doesn’t always go to plan. But she insists this disorder can be turned into a positive.

“It can be even funnier for an audience to see how the cast get around it and handle the situation – or not in some cases.”

Thankfully, Harlington is no stranger to unusual roles. In Avenue Q, she underwent a “rigorous rehearsal process” to build stamina for the nightly puppetry performances. “It was such a bonus to add a new string to my bow,” she says.

However assured she is as an actress, she admits even she is still caught off guard by Spamalot.

“Some nights I have to have a strong word with myself and reign in the giggles,” she laughs. “Even after all these months the show still makes me laugh.”

Monty Python’s Spamalot 
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, February 6 to 10. 2.30pm and 7.45pm. For tickets and more information visit or call 01323 412000