There was a bit of me – ardent Python fan since I was about ten – that was dreading last night’s show at the O2. Like the thousands who packed this massive arena in what is being billed as their last ever live appearance, it was not a show for fans to miss. But a bit of me wanted to miss it. What it if were terrible? Their last ever performance, a damp squib, a group of septuagenarians cynically filling the stalls in an obvious bid to pay their alimony or mortgage bills?
Well fear not. This was an epic show packed with razzle dazzle energy, big showstopping dance numbers and Eric Idle’s great tunes. But most importantly it was also full of all our favourite sketches. Yes, as promised, there was a sprinkling of new stuff, but this time we were definitely expecting the Spanish Inquisition. They knew that us fans wanted to roll the familiar lines and songs around our mouths, that we wanted these old friends back in our lives. And the Pythons delivered.
Because what this was was a celebration. From the moment these old guys came on stage from a replica Tardis (Or “Retardis” as it was labelled with a typically Pythonesque snook to political correctness) to rapturous applause there was no doubting how much affection and love John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle generate.
They feel like old friends, their sketches are old friends, whether it’s the Four Yorkshiremen, Spam, the Lumberjack song, Every Sperm is Sacred, Nudge Nudge, Albatross, the Spanish Inquisition….. I could go on. And, perhaps more amazingly, so did they. Of course the old fellas were helped by the dancing from a highly capable troupe choreographed fantastically well by their old colleague and Strictly alumnus Arlene Phillips, which provided breaks to help them get their breath back. But the whole thing cohered very well.
As any fans of their live recordings will know, there is a certain staple best of Python, a playlist that combines all that is silly, juvenile, and funny about life, but with a bit of sparkle too. It was great watching the wonderful Carol Cleveland back with the gang too. The so-called seventh Python who used to play the sexy woman in the sketches, is now a character actress, playing older roles like Mrs Bun in the Spam sketch with aplomb (although she did insist on appearing in a showgirl costume at the end and she looks brilliant).
The archive sketches that are projected out during breaks from the live action remind us how many years are past. But they are wonderful too. They also helped remind us of the brilliance of Graham Chapman who is lovingly remembered in this show.
Celebrity cameos were promised and last night we got a amusing (and short) appearance from Python fan Stephen Fry and an even better filmed section involving Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking (I won’t ruin it). But the Pythons are the real stars, our greatest comedy legends, the godfathers of mirth and for me this was like a rock gig, like watching the Beatles reforming, and as with any great band it is the older stuff that really gets people on their feet.
John Cleese (who admittedly seemed to have a slight frog in his throat and is sporting a bit of a tum these days) just had to say “I wish to register a complaint’” in the Parrot Sketch and he brought everyone out in hysterics. The Noel Coward pastiche penis song is delivered with aplomb by Idle but is also updated in a dance routine to involve alternative forms of genitalia in what is generally a rather ruder Python than fans may be used to. The song “I like Chinese” is also updated to reflect the rather grander international status of that nation these days.
But no-one is made more fun of than the Pythons themselves, whether it’s flashing up the Merch-o-Meter at the interval to indicate how many T-shirts and mugs they have sold for profit or the moment John Cleese broke off to corpse because he found Michael Palin in the Cheese Sketch so funny. As with so much live comedy, it works when the people taking part are having fun. Here they may be filling their pockets, but the main motivation seems to be that in their final bow they wanted to really enjoy themselves. And it was impossible not to join in.
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