When Monty Python first announced they would perform live at the O2, only one night was booked in. I was lucky enough to be one of the few to get tickets to the show that sold out in under a minute. Then they announced another 9 shows. What cheek! Hardly unsurprising given the Python’s history. The last show will be broadcast across cinemas and TVs all over the world.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this show. In my mind, I had envisaged a kind of stand-up comedy session with five men on the stage at once. Minimal sets (if any), just good humour and general silliness (with silly hats too, of course). And… new material. It hadn’t really occurred to me that the show would only be ‘Greatest Hits – remixed’. That, in itself, was disappointing.
The sweet promo featuring Mick Jagger, sending up himself, The Rolling Stones, and Monty Python, did make a point of playing all the classics – so perhaps I should’ve known better. After all, as Mick points out, ‘But they’re still a bunch of wrinkly old men trying to relive their youth and make a load of money. I mean, the best one died years ago!’
Long-term Python fans will be pleased with seeing all the hits live, but it wasn’t enough to keep the show going. We get that they’re old, but if they weren’t up for keeping the show going for that length of time, why were they doing it? Most of the flashy numbers were carried by a large cast of dancers, whose singing was hard to hear (come on audio engineers, this is the second big venue show I’ve been to recently where the audio mixing sucked). But in case the dancers weren’t enough, they showed a lot of clips – old and new. All of this meant that by the end of the show, we were wondering who the real stars of the show were, as the Pythons themselves did not necessarily have the most stage time.
That isn’t to say that the laughs weren’t there. The original material they were pilfering from is undeniably funny, and there were some very funny moments. I particularly liked the expanded version of ‘Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis?’ to include a nod to vaginas and bums as well. The giant pink penis canons spurting ‘semen’ into the audience was also a nice touch. Other highlights of the night included the always-funny four Yorkshire men, the lumberjack song, the Australian philosophy lecturers, poofy judges, and the dead parrot sketches.
The Python’s popularity was also evident in the special cameo appearances. First, Mick Jagger in the promo, then a pre-recorded number with Professor Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking, and a brief on-stage appearance from Stephen Fry. Not to mention the multiple special appearances of the late Graham Chapman.
The weakest link was easily John Cleese. Over the years, the damage he has done to his voice is evident. His ‘normal’ speaking voice is quite difficult to hear and understand – he is much more easily heard when using a higher-pitched ‘silly’ voice or pretending to be a woman. Meanwhile, he had two moments of unprofessionalism – while at the time they amused the audience (myself as well), we paid a lot of money to see something a little more polished. Cleese left the stage in a giggling fit just before Michael Palin began to sing ‘I’m a Lumberjack’ and then forgot his line in the dead parrot sketch (again saved by the brilliant Michael Palin).
The other Python’s – Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam – gave strong performances. Michael Palin was easily the standout star of the evening, though my favourite is still Eric Idle. Idle’s singing was still enjoyable – I love a good silly song. Gilliam was seemingly responsible for most of the original material for the show, with a host of new animations, alongside originals from The Flying Circus, to help transition between sketches.
Verdict: A disappointing and unoriginal performance that was overly reliant on fancy production techniques to keep the audience’s attention. The old classics were there, but there was very little added to them that made it worth the ticket price. I did enjoy it, I’m just not sure it was any better than curling up at home with the DVDs.
This is a shame, but I think inevitable. We watched a sort of ‘making of’ documentary about it the other day, and no one’s heart was in it. They barely even communicated with each other while it was being put together, it was pretty much Eric Idle working on it while everyone else waited for him to tell them what to do, and there seemed to be all sorts of silly tiffs and grudges going on. Especially after reading this, I’m glad I didn’t spend the extortionate price I assume they were charging for tickets!