Re:View – ‘Monty Python: One Down, Five To Go’
The first-night audience at London’s vast 02 last night clearly knew what to expect; the audience was full of Spanish inquisitors and Gumbys. And that, pretty much, was what they got – a greatest hits package that felt like a rather tired reprise of the Hollywood Bowl show back in the 1980s.
Python is the only comedy team whose audience can sing along with the jokes, so everything from lumberjacks to dead parrots have been (just about) revived, complete with period time references (Bertram Mills? Timothy Whites?). At times we were left sitting awkwardly watching Terry Gilliams’ animations on screens, and I felt I could have been doing this at home just as well. There’s plenty of padding out with Broadway-style dance routines of songs from ‘Finland, Finland, Finland’ to ‘It’s Christmas In Heaven’ but ‘The Galaxy Song’ concludes unexpectedly with Stephen Hawkins, and there’s a somewhat unnecessary guest spot with with Stephen Fry.
There are very few changes or innovations here, although the words to ‘I Like Chinese’ have been altered to be less derogatory. And of course there’s no sign of the really transgressive stuff that made up much of the third series.
Even so, if you’re a fan there’s stuff to enjoy, and with the lousy sight lines at the 02 it will probably play better in cinemas or on DVD. Of the five, Cleese is clearly struggling – his voice has weakened so that he can no longer manage the screaming delivery required of certain sketches, while Palin seems barely to have changed at all.
The best moments are the intimate ones; Cleese endlessly coughing as Ann Elk, the Cheese shop, in which Palin and Cleese outcorpse each other, the four Yorkshiremen, which works perfectly now that they’ve all aged, and possibly best of all, the 5-minute argument, where it feels like they’re firing on all cylinders – as the shows progress they’ll probably relax into it a little more and enjoy themselves. And it is touching to see them together again on stage, riding a crest of audience goodwill.
I felt we were a bit short-changed on Pepperpots – the old ladies with screeching voices, although the exploding penguin is here – but the streamlining of characters and songs works well enough, with the massed ranks of sailors camping up drill parade and giant penis cannons firing into the audience on ‘Every Sperm Is Sacred’. And one thing comes over clearly – the extraordinary range of a show written in the 1960s, which could move from making fun of the legal system to the surreality of philosophers taking part in the Olympics.
You can’t help wondering if we were all more intelligent and open-minded back then…