AND now for something completely familiar … After the onslaught of hype, the comedy icons’ return fulfilled their nostalgic obligations while never coming close to approaching the provocative or absurdist heights that made the Pythons (mostly) living legends.
O2 Arena, London
Hearing the orchestra strike up the opening bars of Sit On My Face was spine-tingling, as was John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones’ first appearance on stage. Regardless, this was just a dust-off of the classic sketches and songs, and no amount of theatrical window dressing and high-kicking, chorus line accompaniment, could really spark such a spectacle when everyone in the audience knew the punchlines.
That said, there were a smattering of new moments to delight fans. Although Every Sperm Is Sacred, one of the pinnacles of Python on film was disappointingly diminished as a live number, new track The Silly Walks Song, a bit nondescript when released recently, became toe-tappingly catchy and infectious with Arlene Phillips’ choreography.
The Penis Song got a twenty-first century update, and lyrics were corrected for accuracy in The Galaxy Song and I Like Chinese, the former with the amusing help of some guest stars, the latter remaining just the right side of political correctness. Occasionally though, as with Palin and Idle’s judges disrobing into lingerie, it felt mustily clichéd and outdated.
Considering the deft wit that once created Bruce’s Philosopher’s Song, the set-up here was boorish and awkward, with Carol Cleeveland once again given nothing to do but be lusted after, all of which was reflected in the audience’s muted singalong. For self-evident reasons, the more physically demanding sketches were played on giant screens between costume changes, as were Gilliam’s animations, which have aged well, and Graham Chapman’s contributions, which were sadly more limited than might have been expected.
Python’s highlights always tended to rely on performance rather than scripted gags and Palin and Cleese rose to the occasion with a marvellous rendition of The Argument sketch. Elsewhere though, Jones appeared hesitant and was clearly reading off cue cards during Crunchy Frog. By contrast Idle held the whole extravaganza together, taking the lead on the songs and clearly benefiting from his experience with John Du Prez creating the Spamalot musical. A one-off then, and great to be there. Ultimately though, it was perhaps telling that the funniest moment for me was seeing various groups of fans dressed as Gumby greeting each other in the queue for the toilets.