Monty Python Live (Mostly) review

The O2, Jul 1 2014



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© Andy Gotts

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Monty Python are no longer bereft of life. The opening night of their reunion run at the O2 wasn’t a triumph, but neither was it the embarrassment it could have been.

After all, Python are a famously bitchy group of men in their seventies, openly in it for the money, who showed little interest in rehearsing, and have 150,000 people to entertain between now and July 20. The mere fact that neither Palin, Cleese, Idle, Gilliam nor Jones froze with nerves, stormed off in a huff or dropped dead from cardiac arrest counts as a massive success.

That said, I still wish to make a complaint: laughs worthy of such a mighty occasion were suspiciously thin on the ground.

The show was a high-production weaving of greatest hits, far more lavish than their last performances at the Hollywood Bowl in 1980. There were dancers aplenty, an orchestra in the pit and enormous screens that proved essential for watching the procession of classic sketches performed on small wheeled sets.

Despite the eminent quotability afforded by seeing ‘The Four Yorkshiremen’, ‘The Spam Sketch’, ‘The Albatross’ and more performed live, this wasn’t the punchline shout-along that many expected. The arena was uncomfortably hushed and withheld at times – perhaps because so much of the original series was lazily rerun on the screens between scene changes. It made for a regrettably passive atmosphere, even on opening night.

The show’s saviour was Eric Idle. He’s still unflappably chirpy, and his many musical numbers were vital in making the show reach the very furthest rows. Even so, the Aussie-baiting ‘Bruces’ Philosophers Song’ led to a baffling moment when a man dressed as Freddie Mercury, who had won a charity auction to appear in the sketch, first fumbled on the mic and was then ass-humped by a man in a kangaroo suit for his troubles.

If Idle had the voice, John Cleese had the soul. His wry, unscripted smiles nudged and winked at the absurdity of five OAPs reciting material written 50 years ago. His attitude at times was deliciously appalling. After leading Michael Palin into the set-up for ‘The Lumberjack Song’, he simply stood up and walked away before the scene ended.

Not that doing material from a bygone era was necessarily bad. Modern audiences, for example, rarely get to see sketches that end up with the Pope shouting ‘I’m the head of the fucking Catholic Church’ at Michelangelo, followed by a song about masturbation. To their credit, the Pythons also dabbled with topicality – wittily captioning their walk-on with the words ‘photo opportunity’ or inserting Vladimir Putin into one of Gilliam’s onscreen animations as a censoring ninny. There were even two penis-shaped cannons that looked more at home in Katy Perry’s stage show than a veteran comedy revue.

The pace picked up after the interval, when sketches began segueing fluidly into each other, though certain pockets of the audience looked like they could have used a slap across the face with a fish.

Nobody would have expected ‘The Spanish Inquisition’ to get such a muted reaction, even in front of an audience of diehard fans (some dressed as Vikings, some as Gumbies). But it undeniably faltered – in a way that only verbal and cerebral humour transmitted on big screens across a vast arena could.

By contrast, it was telling that one of the biggest laughs of the night came when Idle and Palin’s camp High Court judges disrobed into women’s underwear. Any fool can recite the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch, but you really had to be there to see Michael Palin’s arse in lace stockings, and the crowd duly went wild for such rare moments of exclusivity.

This isn’t a sad farewell for Python, nor is it the hot ticket we all hoped it would be. Fandom and devotion are essential, all of which are hallmarks of a slightly lazy and pedestrian production. But hey, look on the bright side. Nobody dropped dead.

Users say

Arya S
Arya S

This review of the show is a PERFECT one.  :)  However, I find it sloppy and lazy that Eddie Izzard wasn't identified.  What the "man dressed as Freddy Mercury" supposed to be a joke?