I wasn’t a fan of the Monty Python TV series. I had no choice. I was growing up in a time when it wasn’t repeated. (despite my haggard face, I was too young for it first time around). Monty Python’s Flying Circus was like The Avengers or The Prisoner, a programme I knew of as a legend, a series that I invented in my mind from the few stills I had seen.
I came to Python via The Holy Grail, a film that would have milk running through my nostrils due to uncontrollable laughter from the moment the mock trailer began.
John Boorman’s far more serious Excalibur was always tainted by its similarities. There is something about Holy Grail, and Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky, that made the middle ages seems so dirty and real. They didn’t skimp on the shit.
The LPs were also far more familiar to me than the TV series. Thanks to the Holy Grail album, I was able to quote King Lear with ease in my English A Level.
“Let copulation thrive”.
I am of a generation where comedy could be contraband. The furtive listening to these fertile minds was an act of rebellion, sometimes solitary, sometimes in small groups; eager teens seated, leaning forward, eyes wide and eager.
On Wednesday, I went to see Monty Python at the 02. I have never been to the 02. These modern auditoriums make me nervous. There was a sense of occasion, but not to the point of fundamentalism. A few knotted handkerchiefs, some people in Chinese costume, a couple banging coconuts, why the hell not, they’ve spent a lot of money to visit their heroes, seize the day with an instagram image.
There has been much criticism as well as spiteful hope that the Pythons would be some wretched gang of geriatrics, sighing and reciting, using occasional rictus grins that have been bought from celebrities who used to invite you in to their lovely mantlepiece for Hello magazine exclusives.
The overture began, the audience clapped along. Those unconscious smiles you are unaware of until you are suddenly surprised by your own glee were on the faces of those around me.
I won’t give away too much, but the show was delightful. It was not a trudge or a painful revisiting of things that should be left in the ground. This was not displaying Sarah Bernhardt’s amputated leg as a medical curiosity (she refused when offered money for her lost leg anyway).
It was intriguing to see people spluttering with laughter at lines they knew so well, this wasn’t just applauding the familiar, for many, the excitement of seeing them live made everything both known and new at the same time. John Cleese’s eyes had the wickedest glint, his timing remains immaculate. There remains a sense of danger. Idle had gleeful chutzpah, Terry Jones bumbled with charm, Gilliam created explosive felt guts and contributed assorted grotesques, Michael Palin modeled lingerie with aplomb.
The sketches that charmed me most were not the most glitzy or famous, it was Ann Elk, the exploding penguin on the TV, and Mary, Queen of Scots drew me. It was the timing of the pauses, the ridiculous amongst the mundane, the twisted faces, that seemed untainted by time. There was something bold in these quieter, suspenseful moments played to an audience of over 12,000.
Much was made of the age of the Pythons, and it is true that their combined ages are the equivalent of Ken Dodd’s, but it was seeing the giddiness of septugenarians that proved comedy is not “a young man’s game”. Though the sketches themselves may be as old as me, the performances, the suspense of when one or other would depart from the script, the daring look in the Pythons’ eyes as they tempted themselves to throw the other one, that was infectious. (high points included John Cleese grabbing the crunchy frog chocolate assortment where Terry Jones’s lines were written after Cleese had forgotten his own)
This was not a lazy production.
This was a celebration of six hugely creative comedy minds who have gone on to write fabulous children’s books, intriguing novels, direct dark and strange films, as well as creating further great moments in TV whether travelogues, Ripping Yarns or Rutland Weekend Television. The standing ovation at the end was not merely for the show, far more, it was an audience who wanted to thank the Pythons for all they have created and continue to create. It is not as if they have spent 40 years living of last glories, I am glad I witnessed this, whether resurrection or final burial.
I will be playing far smaller rooms and with far fewer dancers (though Grace Petrie may cartwheel once or twice) in the autumn. Tour dates from Edinburgh to Swindon via Berwick and Glasgow and more HERE
I am also off to Australia HERE
and the USA with Prof Cox HERE