On Wednesday I caught an encore showing of Monty Python Live (Mostly). I discovered Python in the mid 80′s in high school when everything the troupe was doing was still considered cutting edge and they’ve stuck with me ever since. My biggest fear was the jokes performed by men in their 70′s would not hold up. None of that mattered as the show brought me back to my teenage self and they could do no wrong. This is a summary of the show mostly from Dominic Cavendish. He went to the first show where Stephen Fry was on Blackmail. I reproduce it here (hopefully with all the appropriate changes for my viewing) to preserve for myself.
Long-time Python collaborator John Du Prez conducts an orchestral overture – a medley that includes Sit on My Face, I Like Chinese, Finland, Spam, Every Sperm is Sacred and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Three large screens, embedded in a mock-up music-hall stage complete with red curtains, flicker into life. We’re soon watching a new animation of Graham Chapman’s head being booted across space, through which also hurtles a police-box, a real-life counterpart to which (“The Retardis”) “materialises” on stage and we’re off.
1) The Pythons arrive to mass hysteria (the screens flash the words “photo opportunity!”) in traditional Spanish costumes, Idle and Jones bearing guitars. They launch into the Llamas sketch. Information about the llama follows, conveyed in gibbering Spanish, with English subtitles (“Llamas are larger than frogs…”) The broadcast did not show much of the subtitles which made it hard to get the full impact of the humor even though I knew the gist of what was going on. The “Liberty Bell” theme-tune then kicks in, the famous Flying Circus opening credits roll; 15,000 people clap along, go wild etc.
2) A set trundles on, bearing The Four Yorkshiremen, its intro freshly tweaked: “Who’d have thought 40 years ago we’d all be sitting here doing Monty Python?” Idle, Palin, Cleese and Jones puff on cigars and show the old magic.
3) The Penis Song – Idle in silk dressing-gown as Noël Coward, while Gilliam in ghastly drag, accompanies him on the piano: “Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis? Isn’t it frightfully good to have a dong?” The air starts to turn blue.
4) A segue into the Naval Medley, which extended the penis song to sings the praises of vaginas and bottoms with scrolling lyrics “… but don’t ever call it a ‘cunt’ or they will put you in the dock and you won’t get out again.” The first sight of the 20-strong chorus-line, giving it a lot of raunchy emphasis and rude gesticulation courtesy of choreographer Arlene Phillips, who worked with the Pythons on The Meaning of Life. Cleese appears, ordering the company, to “camp it up”, so the dancers shift into a tightly drilled version of the “camp square-bashing routine”.
5) After a video replay of “Batley Townswomens’ Guild presents the Battle of Pearl Harbor”, and a surprise sighting of Vladimir Putin’s face across the navel of Michelangelo’s David, we’re into “The Last Supper”; John Cleese plays the Pope and Eric Idle Michelangelo, contending with his Holiness’s complaints about the generous number of disciples (28) he has depicted, as well as the three Christs.
6) Every Sperm is Sacred, the notorious Catholic-baiting ditty from The Meaning of Life, rousingly chorused here not by children, as in the film, but by the high-kicking adult dance troupe – kitted out as nuns and priests. Two foam-spurting, phallic cannons are wheeled on by way of saucy garnish.
7) Mr and Mrs Blackitt (Palin and Jones) discuss the difference between Protestant and Catholic sexual intercourse. Some footage of the Silly Olympics.
8) Vocational guidance counselor sketch. Palin’s chartered accountant tells Cleese’ counselor he wants to become a lion-tamer. When it’s pointed out to him what a lion actually is, the skit shifts into…
9) The Lumberjack Song. Palin twinkles away in his red-and-black check shirt, surrounded by thigh-slapping Mounties.
10) After footage of the Philosophers’ Football Match, it’s time for Aussie-based audience-participation with the Bruces’ Song in praise of drinker-thinkers. This is where Eddie Izzard made his guest appearance.
11) Crunchy Frog. Terry Jones, hunched at a desk as the proprietor of Whizzo Chocolate, gets a visit from the cops (Cleese and a nicely vomiting Gilliam) on account of the unorthodox and wholly unappetising source of his confectionary.
12) The Man Who Speaks in Anagrams. Idle does so, delightfully.
13) I Like Chinese, the iffy stereotyping number reinvented on a big musical scale for the 21st century, led by Idle. “I like Chinese. They copy everything they sees… But they’re up on the moon soon, they’ll do as they please.”
Even in the rerun the intermission was 30 minutes!
1) A dead-pan, cod-balletic performance of “Spam Lake” morphs into a lithe, choreographed orgy to the bare-faced, rousing cheek of “Sit on My Face”.
2) The Death of Mary Queen of Scots. Cleese and Jones in drag as Pepperpots slump in a living-room listening to a radio enactment, childishly gruesome and near-wordless, of Mary’s death. Their radio-set explodes, then, after a short discussion some of which involved how boring that Michael Palin’s travel show was conversation turned to the penguin sitting on top of the TV set, which then exploded.
3) Gumby Flower-arranging. Gilliam, sporting a knotted handkerchief on his head and a moronic expression on his face, is on fine dunderheaded form, clumsily stuffing flowers upside down into a vase in a sketch first seen on TV back in 1970.
4) Poofy Judges. Gossiping Idle and Palin get their robes and wigs off to reveal the tights, suspenders and brassieres underneath. The pair took a dig at Cleese, one asking “did you handle the Cleese divorce?” and the other replying “which one? There were four!” to uproarious applause.
5) Albatross. The original stuffed albatross has been brought out of storage to enable Cleese, got up as an icecream-tray-carrying usherette, to rail at Jones’s non-plussed customer. “It’s a bloody sea-bird… it’s not any bloody flavour!”
6) Nudge Nudge. Greeted with a roar of recognition, Idle matches his glory days as he gets back into winking, insinuating, spivvy character, with Jones playing the perplexed pub-goer he button-holes.
7) Blackmail, the spoof TV show in which unwilling participants are forced to part with cash to prevent compromising secrets being spilled has been souped up, not least with the introduction of a surprise celebrity cameo (Mike Meyers).
8) Anne Elk. Cleese dons frightful wig, glasses and skirt to play a primly deranged, woman with a theory “which is mine” about brontosauruses, procrastinating with revolting, catarrh-riddled bouts of coughing. An exasperated Idle quizzes.
9) The Spanish Inquisition. Holds good here, with Palin as Cardinal Ximinez of Spain, accompanied by Biggles and Fang (Jones and Gilliam). Carol Cleveland, who has popped up throughout the evening in various guises, plays the mystified house-dweller who’s told to confess. The last weapon of torture is “the fridge”.
10) … which opens to reveal Eric Idle, all dapper, and crooning the eternally touching Galaxy Song. Mesmerising visuals give way to a video skit in which Prof Brian Cox pedantically dissects the lyrics, only to be flattened on the grass of King’s College Cambridge by the speeding wheel-chair of Stephen Hawking. The cameras then cut to professor Hawking in the crowd. One of his assistants waved his hand to everyone.
11) The Silly Walk Song. Bowler-hatted dancers carrying brief-cases indulge in some organized mayhem to a preachy new number about the evils of money.
12) Argument Sketch. Still holding good, despite the evident exhaustion of Cleese at this stage in the evening; his corpsing and chemistry with Palin is a delight. Gilliam swings by on high, suspended on wires, singing “I’ve Got Two Legs”, only to be shot down by Cleese – the former’s fake stomach disgorging entrails.
13) The Spam sketch – Jones squawks away magnificently as the greasy-spoon waitress whose menu is almost exclusively spam-based.
14) As if from nowhere, Cleese appears with the words “I wish to register a complaint” (cue audience whoops) and the caff is disassembled and reconfigured as a pet-shop for the Dead Parrot sketch. Cleese had a huge mis-cue here where he asked “now where were we?” and Palin said “you were about to say ‘Now that is one dead parrot!‘” which brought about great laughs. The skit did a sudden swerve into the Cheese Shop sketch; Palin amiably matches his counterpart in timing, emphasis and infectious delight.
15) A rather “so-what?” sacrilegious-sexy finale number, Christmas in Heaven, allows the ensemble to cavort around in fake-breasts, fake snow a-falling, but it’s really just a means of heralding the true climax, served up as the encore.
16) Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, an arena-sized anthemic sing-along that warms your cockles and moistens your eyes as you bid the old timers adieu.
The final images on the O2 screen were:
Graham Chapman 1941-1989
Monty Python 1969-2014