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And now for something completely sentimental, Monty Python Live (Mostly)

By Matt Bonanno

31 July 2014, 9:07am
If you don’t know who Monty Python are or what they’ve done, then the fact that the first show announced at London’s massive O2 Arena sold out in 43 seconds should give some indication of the level of worship that myself and millions of others around the globe heap upon them.

Entitled Monty Python Live (Mostly) to refer to the death of Graham Chapman in 1989, the run of shows was the last time that John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam would be appearing together onstage before they too run down the curtain and join the bleedin’ choir invisible.

The show opened with the not-that-well-known ‘llama sketch’ from the first season of Flying Circus. Dressed in traditional Spanish clothes, Cleese, Idle and Jones deliver, in Spanish, a dubious lecture about the llama (“It has two ears, a heart, a forehead, and a beak for eating honey. But it is provided with fins for swimming” etc.) This sketch is a great example of Monty Python’s surrealist humour. There’s no point and no punchline, it’s just silly and hilarious.

After that, the show was essentially a Greatest Hits album, featuring all the classic sketches you’d expect, interspersed with musical numbers mostly taken from the 1983 film The Meaning of Life, as well as clips and animations from Flying Circus which were shown during the lengthy costume changes. They are all in their 70s after all.

Some sketches worked, others less so. I thought some of them were actually improved by the Pythons’ advanced age, the most obvious being the Four Yorkshiremen sketch but also any one in which Cleese played an angry character. Michelangelo and the Pope, Crunchy Frog – during which he let out a drawn-out ‘old man’ cough – and of course the Dead Parrot sketch, all benefited from Cleese’s increased grouchiness.

Overall I think Cleese gave the best performance of the night, despite being the oldest member of the group. He delivered his lines perfectly in the ‘Lion Tamer’ and ‘Argument Clinic’ sketches, both with Palin as foil, as well as reprising his role as the hyper-annoying Anne Elk (Miss) in ‘The Theory on Brontosauruses’ (more intentionally irritating coughing here).

At other times, they all sounded quite knackered.

The musical elements of the show, handled as always by Eric Idle, were another highlight. A troupe of dancers and some impressive projections gave the songs that extra bit of oomph. The way the musical numbers segued into the sketches was also a nice touch, such as the transition between the Lion Tamer sketch and the Lumberjack song, both featuring Michael Palin playing a man dissatisfied with his current career path.

The Galaxy Song was followed by a video clip of the popular physicist Brian Cox ranting about how inaccurate the lyrics of the song are, before an oncoming Stephen Hawking smashes him out of the way with his wheelchair.

I would be lying if I said all the lines were delivered perfectly, but the fluffed lines and the remarks that followed were some of the funniest parts of the show. At one point during the Crunchy Frog sketch, Cleese blanked. Jones, who had clearly been reading out a list of horrid ingredients, made a comment about this, to which Cleese retorted, “It’s alright for you, you’re reading your lines off a fucking box.”

Did the show meet my expectations? Well, yes, mostly. I wasn’t really expecting too many new sketches, and as an audience I don’t think that’s what we were there for. We filled the massive O2 Arena ten times over because it was in all likelihood the last time we’d be able to watch our heroes, five men and one woman (Carol Cleveland, the so-called seventh Python) who changed comedy forever.

That said, I was hoping for some brilliant new animations from Terry Gilliam, which sadly were not forthcoming. The group had also promised some new material, but the only new elements of the show I can think of were the ‘Vagina Song’ and the ‘Bum Song’ to go along with the already-existing ‘Penis Song’ (funny), and a song about money and work, which was accompanied by dancers doing Silly Walks (not that funny). Oh yes, and revised lyrics for ‘I Like Chinese’.

There were also some cheeky self-referential lines inserted into a couple of sketches, like the two camp judges (Palin and Idle) gossiping about Cleese’s divorce(s) and discussing whether or not the Pythons had “done it for the money.”

After about 90 minutes, there was only one way the show was going to end, and that was the Pythons coming back onstage after a standing ovation to perform Always Look On The Bright Side of Life as an encore. No dancers or props, just Cleese, Palin, Jones, Gilliam, Cleveland and Idle with his guitar. I listen to this song whenever I’m feeling sad, and now it’s that extra bit special.

And then they exited the stage and the words ‘Piss off’ appeared on the big screens.

Matt Bonanno is a stand-up comedian who is using this poorly written review for the sole purpose of advertising his appearance at The Chicken Coop comedy club at Django Jazz Bar in Valletta on 31 July.

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