When a British fan asked Monty Python veteran Eric Idle what the Monty Python 2014 reunion at London’s O2 Arena is going to be like, he grinned and said it has become “a musical with Python in the middle.” Say no more. The five Python comedians, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam are set to perform musically “in the middle” in London in their absolute final last performance ever, they promise, probably. Tickets have been sold out for all ten performances of the reunion which start July 1.
The Monty Python troupe has long shown a West End taste for comedic song, especially big, showy, tap-dancing musical productions. The troupe’s 1975 classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail featured a zany, off-the-cuff number, the Camelot Song or Knights of the Round Table, sung in barber shop quartet style with tap-dancing knights. Of course, in barbaric Arthurian days with no modern stages, knights had to show off their line-dancing talents on the feasting table. The troupe is famous for making comedy out of pure logic. Thirty years later, in 2005, the legendary film spawned a Tony award-winning Broadway musical called Spamalot written by Eric Idle and starring Tim Curry. London’s West End danced into Broadway once again.
Python films have never been lite on West End numbers. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) featured the infectious parody Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. Later, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) famously featured the satirical and irreverent send up of Catholicism, Every Sperm is Sacred, complete with line-dancing nuns, vestment-twirling bishops and tap-dancing children. With this number, Python had successfully married their signature anti-establishment satire with their love of showy West End dance productions. The world of satire was never quite the same afterwards.
Modern organized religion is often the target of Python humor but audiences at the 2014 Monty Python musical reunion at London’s O2 Arena can expect the troupe’s signature satirical irreverence toward, well, anything even remotely authoritarian. Whether its organized religion, Hollywood, the People’s Front of Judea or corporate culture in the Crimson Permanent Assurance, fans can expect Pythonesque irreverence and satire in line-dancing West End fashion. Python’s brand of satire has been so influential to contemporary forms of satire it is often difficult to see where Python ends and contemporary satire begins.
But Python’s particular brand of showy anti-establishment satire is beginning to show its age. The UK press is already complaining about the lack of originality from the Python troupe with comedic innuendos like “And Now For Something Completely … Similar.” Mick Jagger’s recent remarks about the age of the comedy troupe (they are all septuagenarians) highlights the dissatisfaction, not necessarily with the Python troupe themselves, but with the lack of originality in a genre of satire which Python so famously created. Few comedy productions attempt to do what Python does in dance numbers like Every Sperm is Sacred, or even see the need to. More than just Python, the great anti-establishment revolution which ignited Jagger and Python alike in the 1960s and ’70s is showing its advanced age.
Despite the controversy, UK audiences are still yearning to watch the Python parade, the line-dancing and the musical satire. With the troupe’s advanced age, their 2014 musical reunion in London in July will likely be the last Monty Python Show. Cue the bedraggled Its-Man running off into the distance. But now for something completely…famous…
By Steve Killings