With a career dating back to the early 1960s the six men who made up Monty Python have been largely living on nostalgia since their second proper movie (and arguable highlight) Life of Brian. So, when they announced a ‘one-off’ series of reunion live shows last year I was far from the super excited fan I might once have been.
That said, while their track record is scrappy at best with at least as many misses as hits across their TV shows and movies, there is certainly enough there to make for an entertaining two and a half hour show.
It is largely these that the show draws on but, unfortunately, many of even these fall flat as they are presented in a way that may once have been ironic for a sketch troupe, but now just feels contrived and stayed.
The production is huge, as you’d expect for a live arena show, but this sucks the life out of what the troupe did best – tightly scripted and performed sketch comedy. This is particularly well demonstrated in the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ sketch in which Eric Idle over plays his part, Terry Jones looks a bit confused and it ends segueing into a song and dance number using a mash-up of lines from the sketch that is at best tiresome.
Eric Idle over playing is a problem across the whole show as he seems to take a lion’s share of the stage time and use it for his many songs which, originally were funny, but are now left as overblown pastiches of what once made them work – and it really doesn’t help that his voice hasn’t held up as well as he seems to think it has.
The best moments of the show are where it reverts back to sketch format and particularly those involving Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. Palin and Gilliam look like they are genuinely having fun that really helps their moments come to life and Cleese, when on stage with Palin, has a similar presence.
Thankfully this means that some of my favourite sketches, The Lumberjack Song, the vocational guidance counselor, the dead parrot, the Spanish Inquisition and the cheese shop all work very well and at points where they fluff moments they run with it in the way that shows the comedic talent these guys once had.
With a string of pointless celebrity guests spots, quite why Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers were even there is beyond me, and more over elaborate dance numbers, Monty Python Live (Mostly) is at best a mixed bag and at worst a near failure that really is only for the diehards or those masochists who want to see what was once vibrant and anarchic become so much the establishment it is, at times, painful.
It’s telling that the biggest cheers are saved for the late Graham Chapman who appears in old clips peppered throughout and who, therefore, has not become a borderline irrelevant pastiche of what Python once was.