London O2, July 3, 26 & 20 2014
Reviewing this show was always going to be an unenviable task, especially for any writer wishing to deliver an objective critique without sounding like an obsessive fan. Such is our lot.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fandom per se, but, surely, given the legend (most influential comedy troupe ever, without whom the Goodies, Comic Strip, Mary Whitehouse Experience and even the heretics of Not The Nine O Clock News would not have existed) 30 years’ worth of expectations, and the respective ages of all five performers (six including Carol Cleveland), the end result could only disappoint, right? Actually, wrong and, perhaps, before going off on one, the self-appointed naysayers (who had their knives poised from the get-go, yet somehow still secured press passes more easily than NUTsmag, thus placing me in another unenviable position) should have given more thought to precisely what they were expecting. Sure, it’s blatant nostalgia, and often comes across as a big queens’ musical revue, but the trick is to accept what you get- a jaunt down memory lane, largely comprised of old faves, but with sufficient surprises, updates, and if you’re lucky, new twists to throw you- rather than moaning about what you don’t.
Besides, in no way could MP 2014 resemble even the beast that existed at the end of its touring career in 1982, far less the original model which revolutionised British culture in 1969: tempus has fugited, one founder has “expired and gone to meet his maker”, and more pertinently, society has irreversibly changed, with old ladies now resembling Marianne Faithfull more than any ‘pepperpot’, young women performing a far wider range of roles than those written for Carol, Connie Booth or Katya Wyeth, gay men no longer relying on screamingly camp or muscularly butch stereotypes, the traditional upper-class slowly dwindling into extinction, and sex discussed so openly that characters like the Nudge Nudge man are now extinct. Even 1983’s Meaning Of Life, featuring far more sex, gore and violence than its predecessors, seems quaint now in a world acclimatised to the nihilism of Nighty Night, the grotesques of The League Of Gentlemen, the social embarrassment of Gervais, Coogan and Baron-Cohen, and sheer nonsense of Big Train, the Boosh and Jinsy: having witnessed all the above drag the Monty template of surrealism and silliness down darker, sicker back alleys, anyone still expecting ‘cutting edge’ humour would clearly be barking up the wrong tree.
From a New Untouchables perspective, on the other hand (and for the benefit of anyone wondering what this review is doing here to begin with), they remain as iconic to the late 1960s/early 70s scene as David Bailey, Twiggy, Donovan or the Nimble Bread balloon, resembling at times not so much a re-trod comic act but a reunited (if slightly raddled round the edges) rock’n’roll band -which, latterly, they practically were in their long-haired hedonistic demeanour. Indeed, several writers have even gone so far as to suggest that Python, more than any “legitimate” rock act, were the 70s’ true inheritors of the Beatles’ mantle, an assertion which not only statistics (listing them alongside the likes of the Who, Stones, Kinks, Wings, Zeppelin, Floyd, Foghat, ELO, Humble Pie, Bad Co and Moody Blues as one of the top highest grossing British acts Stateside that decade), but the peer respect accorded them, would seem to corroborate- and that’s before one even considers the Bonzos connection. Not bad for a bunch of shy, retiring thespians from Cambridge Footlights and their secretarial sidekick.
The next questions immediately facing NUTsmag are therefore of a more practical nature, such as whether Terry Gilliam’s quintessentially psychedelic animations will still be present: thankfully (though cynics might claim they simply provide breath-catching time for five old men, one old lady and a zillion dancers betwixt costume changes) they remain in abundance, linking in quasi- hallucinogenic union John Cleese’s authoritarian, ranting persona (“I’m the head of the fucking Catholic Church!!”) with Michael Palin’s conversational drawing room humour, Terry Jones’ more “wittering” roles, the animator’s unhinged lunacy as a performer, and most noticeably, Eric Idle’s newfound status as circus ringmaster. Admittedly, especially considering how his pursuit of other projects seemed formerly set to nix it, one may be puzzled by how much of the reunion seems largely of Idle’s devising, with about 40 % of proceedings revolving around his songcraft- but thankfully, he displays no visible desire to outshine his colleagues, who all seem happy to work to his template while still playing to their respective strengths.
Unavoidably, deliveries are sometimes stilted, lines are read from cue-cards by Jones and Cleese (alluded to repeatedly during “Whizzo Chocolates”), memories aren’t what they were (resulting in corpses, fluffs, and much spontaneous ad-libbing) , throats are croakier, and Cleese’s inability at 74 to perform any Silly Walks sees them worked instead into a new chorus routine, entitled, ironically, in the face of the (some may say) exorbitant ticket prices, “Money Is The Root Of Evil”. Elsewhere, with its reliance on crowdpleasers (“Four Yorkshiremen” “Sperm” “Lumberjack” “Bruce Philosophy” “Spam” “Sit On My Face” “Spanish Inquisition” “Argument”) the show often resembles a Stones stadium gig with emphasis on the hits, and some of the older, quainter material jars initially with the more visceral style of 78-83. Yet perseverance yields several rewards for the connoisseur, with the Exploding Penguin, the Man Who Talks In Anagrams (sashaying nicely into “I Like Chinese”) the Accountant Lion Tamer, the Transvestite Judges, and Cleese’s most demented creation Anne Elk (Miss) all dropping by to say hello.
“Blackmail” is, admittedly, spoilt by the inclusion of nightly “surprise guests”, but its very inclusion still suggests, like the equally unexpected opener “Llamas” that maybe this isn’t the cheesefest predicted after all. Similarly, the Dead Parrot dovetails with the Cheese Shop and the Stolen Wallet in a manner just precarious enough to be tight but sloppy enough to be spontaneous: in truth, the choice of “Christmas In Heaven” (never one of their best moments), as the finale is the only glaring error, further compounded by the live continuation of Graham C’s part by the irksomely boybandish ‘lead singer’ of the chorus, but it does provide another opportunity to show the late doctor in action, and demonstrate how, at 71, Cleveland still has a figure to die for. Even I’d let my great aunt dress like that if she looked that good.
Sadly, even after 150 minutes, the end- which, on the last night, is THE end, can come too soon: as “spontaneous encore” (tee hee) “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” concludes with massed curtain calls, the backdrop displays the slogan “Graham Chapman 1941-89”, soon followed by “Monty Python 1969-2014” and “Piss Off”, and realisation sinks in that it is all over. They are no more, have ceased to be, and are no longer even the Knights who say ecky-ecky-ecky-p’tang, let alone Ni: inevitably, many exit complaining of omissions, but were they to perform everything, they’d still be there now. Let’s just be thankful they were there at all.
In short, they pulled it off. Now, do you want to come back to my place?
Powered by Max Banner Ads