Monty Python Live at the 02
Directed by: Eric Idle
Note. This review is based on the second night of the run of shows. I wanted to watch the television broadcast before I posted this in order to give it a fair shake so to speak. I was right the first time.
There was an almost palpable feeling of anticipation in the air of the former Millennium Dome in the moments before the curtain went up for the 20-years-in-the-making-Monty-Python-reunion.
The fact that there was, in fact, an actual curtain to go up was a testament to the sterling job done by the production team as the cavernous arena , more typically suited to trade shows, sporting events and concerts featuring something called a “ Dappy”, had been transformed into an olde time music hall, complete with curtains, arches, ice cream sellers ( Albatross) and ‘Omm Pah Pah’ John Philip Sousa marches being piped in. To say it was electric would have been an understatement.
In the show’s opening section every single person in the audience was completely lost in the moment: you have never seen a crowd so happy to see a group of performers. And as they kicked things off with a quick song about llamas followed by a nice update of The Four Yorkshiremen (“Who would have thought twenty years ago we’d be doing a Monty Python reunion…”) it seemed like we were in for the experience of a lifetime. But as the show progressed it seemed like there was something ever so slightly wrong.
Don’t get me wrong: the boys (and a very welcome Carol Cleveland), hit all their high spots: every conceivable sketch and song was trotted out to rapturous applause. Short of digging up Graham Chapman there was nothing that could have been done to make for a more complete Python experience. There was nothing missing. The problem was what was added.
It was in a word, slick. It was showbiz. No wait, scratch that. It was SHOWBIZ. It was BROADWAY.
Always with Python, came the feeling of unpredictability and danger: the idea that you never knew what was going to happen next. With this version of Monty Python you did know what was going to happen next: it was going to be another six minute long song and dance number with hip young men and women taking an established Python conceit and extrapolating it into, for example, a dance jam (complete with breakdancing), so that the elderly stars could have a breather and get changed backstage.
And it’s understandable that the show needed to be so polished: when the audience of in excess of 10,000 is paying at least 80 quid a ticket you had better give them some glitz. But in 20 plus years as a Python fan I have never found myself thinking “Ministry of Silly Walks is a good sketch and all that, but it could really use 20 or 30 svelte young twenty-somethings demonstrating perfectly choreographed silly walks to some undulating trance rhythms.”
A similarly understandable issue is that the five Pythons who still retain corporeal form are pushing 70, and have been suffering from various ailments. John Cleese could barely manage much more than a rasp for many of his lines, Terry Jones was clearly reading his lines off anything that was to hand (although bonus points for his use of a chocolate box). Given their age and conditions it’s difficult to begrudge them taking a breather.
Less difficult to begrudge is the ‘celebrity’ guest star. Not the inclusion mind you, just the quality. The night before : Stephen Fry. The night after: Bill Bailey. The night I was there: Lee Mack.
Despite all of my gripes, the sketches were mostly as tight as they could have been, and there were moments of pure brilliance: Eric Idle singing the Galaxy Song as a giant CGI map of the universe spread out behind him with 10,000 people singing along in wide-eyed childish amazement; Terry Gilliam, realising that he actually had nothing of real importance to do, and having the time of his life doing it; and during the Dead Parrot sketch as John Cleese and Michael Palin took it in turns to try and crack each other up. During that sketch, for two full minutes, the danger returned. And the audience KNEW that once again, anything could happen. It was glorious.
Much like a group of veteran rockers they came out, played all their hits and disappeared into the night. As a fan event its entertainment value was second to none, it’s just a pity it was such a bittersweet entertainment. It’s always hard to watch your heroes grow old, but as their parting shot showed, they at least had not grown old gracefully.
Despite what they might have stated, the success of this run suggests to me that a similar revival will take place in other major cities. After all, John Cleese has probably gotten married and divorced again in the time it’s taken to read this article.
Good night, and God bless!!
3 out of 5 Nerds
Many thanks to Peter E Davidson for the following pics
Just Monty Python coming out of the Tardis with a kangaroo. Nothing to see here.
“You’re not gonna believe what’s wrong with this parrot”