Amy Tries Again

Monty Python Live (Mostly) – A Review
August 8, 2014, 4:41 AM
Filed under: Miscellanea, Review

Spoilers, I guess.

It was with some trepidation that I used the cliché ‘it was with some trepidation’ to express the fact that I felt nervous upon venturing into a screening of Monty Python Live (Mostly). Recorded on the final night of their sell-out last hurrah at the O2 Arena just a few days ago, it was billed as an all-singing, all-dancing collection of some of Python’s most iconic sketches and songs. The Pythons, together again? Magnificent! (Except, you know, now they’re pretty old and one of them is dead.)

I was a bit concerned. What if it was just…kind of sad? You know, pity sad? Well, it made my eyes leak*, and it was lovely, and sometimes it was a bit shit, and sometimes I started clapping my hands together in involuntary delight.

They are old. Of course they’re old, it’s 2014. I’m glad they’re old (although Chapman sadly didn’t have that privilege), and I don’t think that being old precludes them from being funny, or from getting the ol’ gang together. I just really, really hoped it would work. Their show could have consisted of them all standing on stage together and reading a single sketch from dog-eared scripts and it still would have sold out – it’s MONTY PYTHON – but I wanted it to be good because I love them and I didn’t want to pity them even a little.

So, is it good? It’s worthwhile. It’s long, but most of it is padding – it relies heavily on a troupe of dancers and clips from Back In the Day interspersed with live sketches. Oh, and Idle sings a lot. When they get to it, the good stuff is there in some form or another. Sketches have been stitched together and re-jigged somewhat – when Idle emerges from a fridge to croon the Galaxy Song, he now does so to the always fabulous Carol Cleveland (I’m so glad she’s in it!) who needs some cheering up after an unexpected Spanish inquisition. It’s fun to guess where they’re going to head next, and there are some enjoyable bits of misdirection in this regard. I only felt stooged by this once, when the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch…wasn’t. The Ministry’s sign appeared on the big screen, and a familiar ridiculous silhouette appeared – and another, and another, and another. The dancers were back. It would have been great to see this as PART of the Silly Walks sketch rather than instead of it.

I was a bit miffed by the simplicity of some of the staging. I know, I know – but come on, it’s a bloody arena spectacular with massive screens, confetti and ceiling harnesses. The dancers in Every Sperm is Sacred just sort of bob about dressed as nuns and priests. Think of all the different characters in the musical number in the original film! They weren’t out just to transcribe the filmed scene, I get that, but the staged version does seem to pale in comparison. Surely they could have costumed some of the dancers differently and staggered their entrances? If you’re doing an area spectacular – well, do an arena spectacular. (I enjoy typing ‘arena spectacular’.) Whilst the dance sequences are enjoyable enough (if a bit long sometimes), they’re essentially filler – so really, they might as well have gone all out. The budget was certainly there.

It’s worth mentioning that this is a Python for 2014: I Like Chinese has undergone significant de-racistification, and the Penis Song now features a second verse about vaginas. It’s obvious that effort has gone into the balancing act of retaining the feel of the original material and making the content suitable for modern audiences. Sure, these efforts are a bit clunky at times (and they’re certainly still a bit heavy on camp mincing as a punchline), but in general they give off a cosy sort of goodwill and work well enough.

It raises questions, though: how much should you change? ‘70s Python isn’t quite crows-from-Dumbo, Mickey-Rooney-in-Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s level, but there’s plenty of content that your average Tumblr user would describe as problematic. Intent and context are important, and the majority of the jokes aren’t cruel. Way back when, for example, the Bruces declared ‘no poofters!’, we were laughing at them, not the, um, poofters. Still, time marches on, and what was okay then isn’t okay now – rather than declaring things a product of their time and doing the scripts verbatim, we just don’t get the Bruces – or at least, not that part of the sketch. Instead, they clomp out to the strains of Advance Australia Fair, make a few jokes about cricket and lead a singalong of the Philosophers Song. It’s safe, and probably for the best, but I still felt the loss of the opening chunk.

The guest stars (different each night) don’t really have much to do – Austen Tacious is austen-sibly (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) a Bruce, but really he just stands on stage for a while with his trademark getup on under a Bruce shirt and says a few not-in-character words about what a great night it is. Mike Myers comes on with a paper bag over his head during the Blackmail segment (the weakest of the show), is revealed as Mike Myers and gushes about how amazing! awesome! brilliant! it is to be on stage with Monty Python! They’re legends! I’m not worthy! He’s not actually attempting schtick – if this was a reunion show taking place in New York for a classic North American comedy troupe, it would have been appropriate. But it isn’t, so Palin bravely tries to steer the segment onwards. Ugh, Mike Myers. Try to be cool. Surely there would have been more impact in celebrities with comedic chops doing bit parts than in being summoned up on stage to smile and wave?

For all my nitpicking, there’s a lot that is lovely, and the very best bits are what you’d expect: Cleese doing a wonderful bit of corpsing after losing his place during Dead Parrot, Idle’s mugging at the audience as his Say-No-More moustache attempts to escape from his face (he pulled it off and put it in his pocket to rapturous applause) and the grin on Palin’s face as he fakes out the audience after hinting at starting the Lumberjack song (of course, he later delivers).

I am going to send Michael Palin a fruit basket for being utterly adorable.

I am going to send Michael Palin a fruit basket for being utterly adorable.

The show is, of course, very self-aware, and its PHOTO OPPORTUNITY and TWO MINUTES UNTIL SPONTENOUS ENCORE signs seem very much in character. I shouldn’t have worried about pitying them. They’re old Pythons, but they’re Pythons, and they know what they’re about. Some bits work, and some bits don’t, but there was never any sympathy applause. The end of the show, all warm and bittersweet, featured them standing together (inevitably) singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life one last time, and damn, it got me. It got everyone. If only an image of Chapman’s head had been the sing-along-bouncy-ball on the enormous stadium screen. He would have liked that.

* Stephen Hawking sang a verse of the Galaxy Song. I sobbed big ugly happy tears.




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