Friday, 4 July 2014

Monty Python Live (mostly) - Review

O2, London


Let’s put the Python re-union into context please. The gathering of these 5 comedy talents on one stage is an iconic event. Monty Python, in the 1970’s and evolving from TW3 and Beyond The Fringe, re-defined what television comedy could be with an impact not dissimilar to what Elvis Presley did for rock n roll.

Such was the reach of their scripts that I grew up (and I think of myself as moderately well read) believing that they came up with the phrase “this mortal coil” (cf. The Parrot Sketch) and it wasn’t until I studied Hamlet for A Level that I realised the words were penned by the Bard. Us geeky 50-somethings, on both sides of the Atlantic (and the Americans LOVE Monty Python – remember that Eric Idle’s musical, Spamalot, began life on Broadway) can quote from the sketch outright and sing The Lumberjack Song too. But remarkably, even those far younger can still relate to that ultimate rhetorical question (only recently referred to by Gary Lineker in a World Cup commentary) “ What have the Roman’s done for us?”

And those references are but a handful of the Python’s contributions to the English-speaking comedy scene. Whilst the TV series was a product of the 1970’s, much of their writing has proved timeless. They are all getting old now and it is to Idle’s credit that he motivated all his surving peers to re-form for the show. Sure, the O2 show was at times schmaltzy and cheesy – but actually, so what? These guys ripped up the rule book in their day (and in that glorious day too, when there were only three broadcast channels and all with decent risk-taking comedy budgets at their disposal) and they paved the way for acts from The Goodies, through to The Young Ones and Little Britain to follow. Their humour was madcap, but brilliant and bravely innovative. They didn’t play down to a lowest common denominator – rather the Pythons assumed a basic working knowledge of massive cultural pillars amongst their audience: Shakespeare, Philosophy, History.

So, to see the five, live on stage performing The Four Yorkshiremen (for which we were indeed lucky) was actually, nothing short of a privilege. This tour will not be repeated – It is indeed one down, five to go and with all probability, one or more of them could well have joined the Choir Invisible in the next few years. So to witness Michael Palin, 71 and now the widely acclaimed Peter Ustinov / Alan Whicker (improved version) of his generation amongst the broadcast world, clad in suspenders, basque and acknowledging his show-biz roots, was simply priceless.

Decades old words were brought to delicious life in a song and dance extravanganza that was as tasteless and wonderfully tacky as it was brilliantly executed. Salutations to John Du Prez whose orchestra segued effortlessly from de Souza's Liberty Bell to Idle &co's more provocative compositions. Arlene Phillips (no less) and Richard Roe's choreography was drilled to pinpoint precision, whilst Carol Cleveland reprising her role as the boys' token-female, has simply not aged a jot!

Don’t compare Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin coldly, as pensioners acting out sketches that are 40 years old. If that is all you see at the O2, then you have wasted your ticket money. These men, together with Graham Chapman RIP, changed the way many people in the Western World laugh. They mocked the establishment, tradition and taboo and in their wake have left a legacy of brilliantly crafted scripts. Comedy gold.

Playing at the O2 until 20th July 2014
Tickets available from the O2 and also, at discounted prices, from Viagogo and Seatwave

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