The good humoured-audience had gathered at the O2 for a nostalgia fest, a joyous celebration of shared cultural references – so everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition. Cheers and applause greeted each familiar sketch, accompanied by a flurry of exitement, as if in anticipation of a visit by an old and well-loved friend.
This was the full Monty (bar one) - an all-singing, all-dancing version of Python, with an energetic orchestra, seminal material in the form of “Every Sperm is Sacred” and cheeky choreography to mirror the mood of Terry Gilliam’s animations.
There was a large helping of razzle-dazzle from a support team of super troupers; to be fair, the seniors needed a break between sketches to get their breath back. The Pythons are on the last leg of their long-standing collaboration and the loose-limbed dancers are the new recruits to the Ministry of Silly Walks.
The first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired at the tail end of ‘69 – and one particular song in the ensemble makes reference to this number. When those fresh-faced young lads first arrived at the BBC, it’s unlikely that they ever dreamt of being in middle o’ t’ stage in their seventies. They’ve been lucky - aye, lucky.
Of the Big Five, Cleese was the one who corpsed the most. Jones looked unflappable until it came to the crunch: for the chocolate-coated frog sketch, he appeared to glance at cue cards as a prompt for the long list of ingredients. Palin was cheerful and avuncular, while Gilliam took to the stage like a gumby to water. Idle, the showbizziest of them all, and largely responsible for putting the show together, was in his element. The ex Python, Graham Chapman, bereft of life but not of spirit, made up for his absence on stage by his presence on the big screen.
The quintet weren’t above a spot of self-mockery, with a dig at Cleese’s divorce and a big yawn at the mention of Palin’s travel programmes.
The fish-slapping sketch, a particular favourite of Palin’s, drew hearty guffaws from the audience. While many knew it well, they were joined by a new generation of fans, some seeing this original footage for the first time, along with other archive material, all the more effective when viewed on the large screens.
Elvis was, apparently, a fan. His favourite film was Monty Python and the Holy Grail and he liked to wander around playing one of the Knights who say “Ni!” This must account for the tribute Elvis who rocked up at one point during a dance number.
Some of the more jaded critics may have been lukewarm about the evening’s entertainment, but the O2 Arena audience certainly enjoyed it – and Elvis would have loved it.
By Angela Lord