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And Now for Something Completely Hilarious: Monty Python's Latest Farewell Tour
July 20, 2014  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

In the States, we can’t see the live telecast of Sunday’s final Monty Python stage show in London that starts any minute. But it’s coming to DVD in November – meanwhile, I attended the show earlier this week…

It’s fitting, in a way, that the Monty Python troupe decided to stage its latest, most elaborate live theater show only in England, because Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the TV show that launched them, was a British phenomenon long before it caught on in the United States. The original Flying Circus TV show began in the U.K. in 1969, five full years before a local public television station in Texas first imported the series to the United States. By then, basically, the TV show in England was over, and the six Pythons – John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and animator Terry Gilliam – were shifting to movies, about to embark on 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

But between the premiere of Flying Circus in England and its arrival in America, this country got the chance to taste Monty Python by watching a 1971 sketch-compendium movie called And Now for Something Completely Different. Meanwhile, the Pythons themselves had taken to the stage so many times that, by 1973, they cheekily named their stage show Monty Python’s 1st Farewell Tour.

And now, more than 40 years after that first farewell comedy concert – and a full 45 years after their Flying Circus TV series began – the troupe is back for what has been approached, if not publicized, as the group’s true farewell tour. The two-week, 10-show event, staged at London’s mammoth O2 Arena, incorporates generous amounts of video highlights and specially filmed bits, including moments featuring Chapman, who died in 1989 at age 48.

The surviving Pythons are, of course, much older now – their average age is 72, which would make them a mature troupe even by 60 Minutes standards. But except for Cleese turning over his Ministry of Silly Walks stepping to a line of more limber male dancers, the Pythons still can do it all. Idle still hits the notes when singing a song about a penis – a song that, for this new production, features female dancers singing a distaff equivalent – and even though Jones relies on a barely hidden card to read some difficult lines, all the Pythons arrive with their comedy timing intact.

Their timing, their use of pre-recorded pieces, their mortality and their irreverence all are evident in their new show’s title: Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go. The show includes lots of new tweaks and surprises, including a very funny filmed appearance by Stephen Hawking (between this and his appearance on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, what a show-biz year he’s having!), a live supporting appearance by old TV foil Carol Cleveland, and even some fresh twists on classic bits.

But ah, those classic bits. All the material, new and old, was written by the Pythons, in a new, fast-moving stage show designed by Gilliam, directed by Idle, and produced by Jim Beach. Arlene Philips provided the choreography – which, on some songs, was delightfully inventive while overall video design was by Stufish Entertainment Architects, whose scenic designs and giant screen setups have been used by Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and others.

The stage show was, in a word, unbelievable. Unbelievable in scale, in scope, and in execution. Such a mammoth show, especially in such a large arena, has to be surgically precise, yet the Pythons left enough room for the sort of ad-libbing looseness that would make Robin Williams or Tim Conway proud. Several times, most of the Pythons were laughing, or fighting back laughter, while reacting to the ad libs of their colleagues – as when Palin, rather than revealing in one sketch his secret desire to be a lumberjack, kept offering other occupations instead, some of which, it seems, were being uttered for the very first time.

I attended the July 16 concert with one of our British TVWW contributors, Kim Akass, who, it turns out, takes photographs as well as she writes. Most of the photos below – at least the clear ones – are hers, not mine. But until the final show begins in London within the hour (shown on TV there in Gold, and in many countries live worldwide), or until we can buy the Monty Python Live (Mostly) DVD in November, here’s a quick photo tour of some highlights.

And now for something completely entertaining:

Photo opportunity. The Pythons opened the show by encouraging the taking of photos for a few seconds. However, they did nothing to discourage it afterward, which is why TVWW can provide the following, very incomplete photo album.


“The Four Yorkshiremen.” This conversational game of one-upmanship actually is more like a contest of one-downmanship, with each world-weary gentleman trying to out-pathetic the other. And winning.


 “The Lumberjack Song.” Palin’s classic moment, of course – and while the original series featured Connie Booth at Palin’s side, this time the damsel’s place was taken by another Flying Circus regular featured player, Carol Cleveland. And this long shot gives you a sense of how the stadium audience was given the choice of watching the performers – or the very large, very crisp video screen.


 “Ministry of Silly Walks.” This featured not Cleese, but a choreographed number with multiple levels of high-stepping male dancers.


“Spam.” Another wide shot – and on the menu of the day, as reflected in the giant screen, you can read clearly some of the classic specials: “Egg + Spam,” “Egg, Bacon + Spam” and so on…


“The Spanish Inquisition.” In most places, maybe you wouldn’t expect them – but here, you’d be disappointed not to see them.


The complaints department.  No complaints here. Palin and Cleese did more than their share of ad libbing – and were hilarious.


“Celebrity Blackmail.” The night I attended, the surprise celebrity appearing in the Celebrity Blackmail sketch was a very game Simon Pegg. But every night, the backup dancers came to play, in costumes provided by the famous Agent Provocateur lingerie shop.


“The dead parrot.” Perhaps the most famous, and most quoted, Monty Python sketch of all. And performed flawlessly, and just as surrealistically.


The encore.  Of course, it was a group singalong of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," complete with shots of the audience singing along...


The final curtain.  In both floral and florid language, it left the audience with one final thought after more than four decades of impish entertainment: “Piss off.”

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I found the show thoroughly delightful, start to finish. I thought one sketch even better now: The Pepperpots and their Antarcticly Adorned TV. The Pepperpots had finally reached their actual age! :-D
Jul 21, 2014   |  Reply
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