Monty Python Live (Mostly): Opening Night – A review

smapwMANY of us will be familiar with the work of Monty Python. Comprised of John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, the group is one of the funniest, best known and most notorious comedy troupes of all time. From their Flying Circus TV show with sketches such ‘The Dead Parrot’ and ‘The Lumberjack Song’ to feature films such as The Life of Brian, the group have been a major influence in comedy for over 40 years, despite disbanding in 1983. From British comedy to animated shows like Family Guy and South Park, their influence knows no bounds. Last year, the remaining five members (Chapman having died in 1989) announced one last reunion show at the O2 Arena. After the show sold out in under a minute, a series of shows were added, up to July 20th. I was lucky enough to attend the opening night for what was ominously called ‘one down, five to go’.

There were many questions in the minds of the attendees before we even arrived at the arena. Would they pull it off? Would the sketches still be funny decades after they were originally performed? We took our seats in the O2, rather high up, but not too far as to be away from the atmosphere. The stage was decked out in typical Pythonesque attire; plenty of Cupid’s feet and naked women to be had. The show opened with a short video of a TARDIS spiralling through space, before ‘crash landing’ on the stage, and the five Pythons emerging, donned in tuxedos. The show comprised of the troupe performing some of their favourite sketches. Musical numbers performed by a superb chorus filled the gaps between set changes, as well as animation by Gilliam, and clips of the old TV shows.

Of course, the classics would get the crowd going. The Lumberjack song went down especially well during the first half, as well as classics such as ‘Argument Clinic’, ‘Spam’, and ‘Dead Parrot’, the latter of which sees Cleese break down into giggles halfway through. The crowd knew what was coming, but of course, that is what they were there for; a celebration of the Python’s comedic genius. Some sketches were slightly reworked for a modern audience; the ‘Blackmail’ sketch contained some slightly crude references to the Top Gear presenters, as well as a timid cameo by Stephen Fry. Sketch of the night had to be ‘The Spanish Inquisition’, still hilarious after all these years.

A short teaser trailer of the show

Their acting has far from diminished. Michael Palin as Herbert Anchovey is still great to see, as well as the Four Yorkshire men at the start of the set. Obviously there are elements which have been toned down, no doubt with age, but the sketches are delivered exceedingly well nevertheless. Part of what was so enjoyable about the set was that, as well as the audience loving it, the Pythons did as well. Broad smiles crossed the faces of Palin and Cleese as it is proclaimed ‘I never wanted to be a banker…’

There were a couple of slight issues I had, however. The song and dance that came with the show was a necessity; it gave time for costume and set changes, as well as adding a bit of ‘pizzazz’ to the O2 Arena, but I couldn’t help but feel it sapped a bit of the surrealist simplicity from the format. Age has, obviously, taken its toll on the comedians as well; Cleese’s voice is not what it was, and his famous voices are missing from sketches, which is a shame.

Perhaps I’m being too pernickety though. At the end of the day, this performance was exactly what you’d expect: a chance to relive the hilarity of Monty Python one last time. They didn’t need to impress anyone; they just wanted to deliver some of the most classic sketches in British comedy, and that they did. As Eric Idle lead the crowd through a rendition ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, you couldn’t help but feel a twinge of emotion.

Monty Python Live (Mostly) will be streamed live in cinemas around the country on July 20th, for their final show.

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