Filmed on the final night of the run of ten sold out performances, live at The O2, London on July 20, 2014, Monty Python Live (mostly) – One Down Five to Co sees the five surviving members – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin – together with Carol Cleveland, perform many of their classic sketches and much-loved songs. The show also encompasses film inserts from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Terry Gilliam’s iconic animations, outrageous dance routines by an ensemble of twenty and a fantastic live orchestra.
Featuring Stephen hawking and Professor Brian Cox, with guest appearances by Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers, the show cements the Python’s reputation as the most influential comedy group of all time and more importantly, still one of the funniest.
All the favorites, with some modern twists, are included: the Dead Parrot, the Lumberjack Song, the Spanish Inquisition, Spam, Nudge Nudge, Argument, the Four Yorkshiremen, the Bruces and with a sing-along of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life as the grand finale.
Monty Python Live (mostly) – One Down Five to Co is the ultimate Monty Python show.
eyelights: the outstanding production.
eyesores: the ratio of musical numbers vs humour. the Pythons’ performances.
“There is nothing quite as wonderful as money!
There is nothing quite as beautiful as cash!
Some people say it’s folly, but I’d rather have the lolly,
With money you can make a smash!”
There’s a terrible risk involved when a classic act that’s near and dear to many reunites after many years apart. Firstly, there’s the matter of expectations; people expect them to be as good as they once were, as they were when their work was captured in time. Secondly, there’s the matter of memory glossing over imperfections, leaving only “greatness”. Thirdly, there’s the act’s actual ability to perform in a way that is satisfying to fans, something that time/aging often impedes.
When Monty Python decided to do a series of reunion shows at the O2 Arena, a 20,000-seater venue in London, I was a bit skeptical of it: they had long avoided doing reunions precisely due to some of the above concerns, and even their most recent efforts together weren’t exactly stellar – they paled in comparison to some of the weakest efforts in their prime. But the shows, which were dubbed a last hurrah, were extremely popular, selling out in minutes.
This led me to wonder if perhaps I had underestimated the Pythons.
So, when the home video version of their final show, performed and broadcast live in cinemas around the world on July 20, 2014, was released, I was curious enough to want to see it. So I picked it up and planned a double-feature with my friends. After watching the surprisingly punchy and hilarious ‘Holy Flying Circus‘, we were primed. We played a quick game of Monty Python Fluxx while having dinner and then rooted ourselves in my couch for a whopping 140 minutes of Python.
Despite the mixed reviews, which gave the impression that this show would consist of a set of reheated leftovers, it sounded kind of pleasant enough. But little did I know (or ever could imagine!) that ‘Monty Python Live (Mostly)’ is not so much a series of sketches (as was ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl‘) as it is a large-scale musical production merely based on the Pythons’ many skits and songs – with a few non-musical performances by the troupe itself (um… when they could muster it).
It really is a massive production, complete with a couple of dozen dancers, many costume changes, elaborate sets, props and a live orchestra – all interspersed by classic Python animations and clips on large screens in between the numbers. It’s quite impressive to see, truth be told – especially considering that Python started off being a BBC television series that scraped by on just a few quid. I’m sure they never could have imagined that they’d someday produce such an extravaganza.
Too bad it’s not really Monty Python.
‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl’ felt like Python, even if it was also a huge party: it focused on the humour, and it had as much of a stream-of-consciousness quality to it as a structured live show could. It even held a few surprises for the audience. In comparison, the only real surprise in ‘Live (Mostly)’ is its scale: everything else is hastily rehashed, with the Pythons gleefully going through the motions, knowingly serving up fan favourites to an audience that probably couldn’t be challenged.
Their performances gave the impression that either they’d lost their panache (Cleese has years ago), or that they were performing for the people at the back of the room: gone was any of the subtlety and finesse that had made them so devilishly funny in the first place. Here they goofily googly-eyed every possible moment with grand gestures and over-emphasized many of their lines. I’d like to think that they deliberately dialed it up, because even Palin was uncharacteristically a blunt instrument.
Right at the onset, I was rather disappointed to see the “Four Yorshiremen” sketch marred by a poor delivery, with the Pythons missing many of the beats. Being one of my all-time favourites (although it’s not Python), that was a downer. At least they changed it up a bit from the original, freshening it up mildly. And during the “Crunchy Frog” sketch, Terry Jones was reading the ingredients from the back of some cue cards, after which he and Cleese lost their place and laughed about it.
Cleese lost his place at another instance, during the “Dead Parrot” sketch with Palin (which eventually tied into the “Cheese Shop” skit) and called out for a cue. This is typical of their routine, actually, as Palin has always had fun trying to stump Cleese – much to their, and the audience’s, amusement. The Pythons (ably assisted by Carol Cleveland) seemed to be having a good time, it must be said, and that was nice to see considering how often they’ve performed these skits through the years.
Eric Idle, the showbiz side of the group, and the man behind the über-successful ‘Spamalot’ (which is said to be the cause of this reunion, due to a massively expensive lawsuit against the group) and ‘Not the Messiah‘, was put in charge of cobbling together the show. He did a marvelous job of it, as far as this sort of thing goes: he found ways to tie together various sketches and songs together thematically, making for a series of seamless, show-stopping performances. Very nice.
Although the transitions were sometimes awkward, it was a joy to see “The Last Supper” tie into “Every Sperm is Sacred”, “Spam” turn into “Finland”, and “The Philosophers’ Football Match” link up to “Bruces’ Philosophers Song” (even if I’m no fan of the latter). Less successful, however, were when “Vocational Guidance Counsellor” became “The Lumberjack Song”, and “Blood, Devastation, Death, War And Horror” (which has Idle speak only in anagrams) transitioned into “I Like Chinese”.
On the more curious side of things, “The Spanish Inquisition” changed things up to include a fridge at the end, so that Eric Idle could come out singing the “Galaxy Song” with guest scientists, Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking in tow. They also adapted the hilarious “The Penis Song (Not the Noel Coward Song)” to include a Vagina version and a Buttocks version. While I appreciated the effort and adaptation, what makes the original so good is its brevity, something lost here.
After the requisite encore of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, which is getting tedious with its predictability, the Pythons said farewell one last time to rousing applause from the countless thousands on hand. Even the show’s many guests (they had one celebrity cameo per night – Mike Myers was this evening’s chosen guest) partook in their going away, filling the stage with familiar faces and much cheer, leaving one with the impression that this was a very successful party.
But did I laugh much? Not really. While I was impressed with the scale and skill of the production, I wasn’t in the mood for an over two hour-long musical variety show. I wanted to laugh. And if they couldn’t produce new material even remotely on par with their older stuff, then I wanted to see the Pythons do their best sketches one last time, as a sort of victory lap. Sadly, ‘Live (Mostly)’ mostly didn’t deliver. And by the first hour, I was counting the minutes to its conclusion.
I’m just glad I didn’t pay for an over-priced tix to see it live; I would have been gutted.
What made Monty Python so terrific at their best was that they didn’t play by the rules; they were outsiders who questioned societal norms, broke and rearranged the rules of comedy, and weren’t afraid to challenge their audiences and themselves. In so doing, they create a form of comedy that has made its way into the modern lexicon. With ‘Mostly (Live)’, they prove to have become exactly that which they initially struggled against: the establishment. They have lost their edge.
Even worse: they’ve totally sold out.
“You can keep your Marxist ways, for it’s only just a phase…
Money, money, money makes the world go round!!!
Money! Money! Money! Money! Money! Money! Money! Money! Money!!!”
Date of viewing: April 4, 2015