Monty Python. Britain’s possibly most famous modern comedy group. John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and the late Graham Chapman. Except for Chapman, they are all very old. And they are probably going to die soon. In a way, then, their performances at the O2 in London are their swan song. Or goose song. One of those.
This live show is perhaps the most involved and spectacular presentation of this group’s iconic sketches. The set and cast is huge, there is a full orchestra, and really there is everything you’d want from a final presentation (although they leave themselves an out). What’s great about the show is that they all are still fantastic performers. Overall, their singing and timing is still spot on, not always the case with performers in their 70s (Cleese: 75, Gilliam: 73, Idle: 71, Jones: 72, Palin: 71, Chapman: dead). And although songs like “I Like Chinese” and sketches like “Camp Judges” (in which the joke is that judges wear lingerie under their robes) do feel like they are from another less PC era, in general the sketches and songs still hold up. What’s more, Python have not fallen behind the times. A well placed Vladimir Putin crotch cover, and new verses to their famous “Penis Song” (because it’s also lovely to have a vagina and a bottom, if you weren’t aware), show that they can still be relevant.
What’s more, the troupe shows some uncharacteristic candidness, as they lose their place a few times, and make comedy hay out of it; they also poke fun at themselves a bit, for example Cleese’s divorces come up as a punchline in the “Camp Judges” sketch.
The main reason, though, that this is a must have is because it contains what must be the ultimate versions of their most famous sketches. “The Parrot Sketch,” “Albatross,” “Blackmail,” and perhaps their best idea ever, “The Argument Clinic,” plus so many more of their most beloved sketches are included. “Blackmail” especially receives the big production treatment, although some of the teeth seem to be taken out of it, and Terry Jones does not play piano naked.
The sketches often come across much better than before, mostly because originally, the characters were old British folks. Now that Python are the age of those characters, there’s a more realistic, almost ironic edge to them. It’s as if the performers realize just how close they came to the reality all those years ago; and a tinge of sadness mixed in with their understanding of why old British people were so hilarious.
There are also numerous fun cameos from famous folks invited to join in on the fun. No need to spoil them, though; they don’t figure prominently, they just add some spice, and one gets the sense that over the course of the ten performances at the O2, folks just dropped by and were thrown in. Better, then, to be surprised by who they are when they show up.
Overall, though, the whole program feels like a bit of a love letter to the late Graham Chapman, who also gets his time on stage through selected videos throughout the show. He’s referenced throughout, and it does seem like he is more present to them than even perhaps the audience might guess.
Worth mentioning as well is that Carol Crawford, the main female performer over the history of Python, also features prominently in this production, and she is as up to form as the rest of the group.
The production design of the live show is fantastic, and in such a huge crowd, nearly 20,000, it must have been simply incredible live in person. The video production, while great, isn’t without its limitations, the main one being that supertitles appear through much of the show, including the opening song which is in Spanish. The director obviously felt that they weren’t important, and so often they aren’t on screen. Strange, because there must have been a reason they were there in the live show; it’s hard to understand why they would be left out of the video. And yet, consistently, half of them aren’t available to the video viewer.
Another issue with the DVD, that likely isn’t present on the Blu-ray, are annoying moiré effects from the large video screen on stage, and some of the props in some sketches. The interlacing on the DVD vibrates in probably about 5% of the disc, and while it’s not very much or often, when it does happen, all but the most forgiving of viewers will notice it. Thus, if possible, get the Blu-ray; it certainly must be HD and progressive, which would make those issues disappear.
The packaging for the DVD is good, if not spectacular. One imagines the audience for Python, while broad, has a significant proportion around the same age as the performers. Curious, then, that the booklet, which has a lot of very interesting information, should use a font smaller than the legalese provided in a newspaper car dealer ad. Or perhaps this is another of Python’s jokes.
These are small issues, though. For fans of Python, this disc is a must have. One wonders if they will ever perform live like this again; maybe if there are only four left, but somehow that seems unlikely. Get this one, then, as it’s probably their best take on the comedy they are so well known for, considering the benefits the wisdom of age brings before the rigors of that age take hold.
Monty Python LIVE (mostly): One Down, Five to Go
9 out of 10 Fjord Pining Parrots
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.