Review of Monty Python's live show by Angelina Melwani, a Monty Python virgin.
Yes. That's right. I am fourty-one years old and have never watched Monty Python. I always meant to. At some point in my life. And I realise that many bits of popular silliness have their roots in some Monty Python sketch or other. But I never got around to watching it. Until Imagine, on BBC2 late Sunday night, which I watched with genuine interest. Until I fell asleep (due to fatigue, not boredom). It was all about the task of reuniting the Pythons (does one call them that?) after all these years to execute the huge and hilarious spectacle that last night's show was meant to be (you get where this is going, right?)
You could argue that I've been living under a rock, because I have never visited the O2 either and leaving behind the beautiful sunshiney evening to walk through the tented pavilion that housed all these chain restaurants lit up like night time left me feeling like I was an extra in a dystopic movie set 20 years from now where the ozone layer has depleted and no one can go out in bare sunshine and independent restaurants have been outlawed by the government.
But that's beside the point.
I just did not enjoy the show. It was awful. There. I said it.
It wasn't that I didn't understand the humour. It just wasn't funny (to me). Was I the lone non-smiling face in the entire arena? Admittedly, this has happened before. When I went to see One Man Two Governors a few years ago when if first came out I just couldn't understand why the person I was watching it with was laughing loudly with thigh-slapping fervour and in fact, every one around me was laughing hysterically. Was this laughter by infection, or genuine laughter? It was beginning to annoy me. Mine was the lone poker face, until I noticed another non-guffawing figure sitting directly in front of me. It was Jo Brand, and she wasn't smiling either. Maybe we were the victim of some inadvertent humour-sucking feng-shui directed at our seats by a reflective door or something.
Anyway back to Monty Python. The idea of bringing it to the O2 and thinking nostalgia could be enough to fill such a huge venue was a terrible one. Surrounded as we were by people who knew all the dialogue, there was a certain amount of decisive joy filtering through the crowds which included a fair few who had dressed up for the occasion (“...We HAVE spent a bomb on these tickets, we DO love Monty Python, we WILL enjoy and talk about it for YEARS”), and it was this that managed to keep the show barely buoyant. When John Cleese seemingly forgot his line, or couldn't suppress a smile, the audience found this endearing and seemed to feel they were sharing an in-joke. To cynical little me, it felt a bit contrived.
There was padding from musical big numbers and dances from a troupe of dancers choreographed by Arlene Phillips (I know because I watched that bit on Imagine). These prevented me from falling asleep (due to boredom, not fatigue). And there was further padding from plenty of old sketches from the original TV show which also allowed for things to be wheeled off and on. It would have been hard to fill a few hours in a huge arena with just a bunch of old men. And hard for them, no doubt. At one point, Stephen Fry came on and didn't look happy to be there. This could have been because he had by then watched the first half of the show.
I can see how Monty Python was at the vanguard of comedy in its time and even how much of today's comedy can be seen as having derived from their surreal style. I really can. I understand how people love the old stuff, but transporting these old sketches to the fifteenth year of the 21st century just doesn't work. Much of it felt dated, sexist and gross-out as opposed to classic, funny and clever. The best bits felt like they could be the least funny sketches on a Saturday morning comedy slot on kids TV in the late eighties/ early nineties. Comedy has evolved so much.
And holding the Monty Python reunion in a big huge arena served only to remind that this was purely a money-making exercise. Not an ambiguous fact, which was further highlighted with “Merch-ometer” animations on either side of the stage. Which wasn't funny either. This was a TV special. On stage.
I'm not the target market for BIG shows. They make me feel like a sheep and I would rather watch them on TV where frankly, you are still watching the action on a screen but can put your feet up on the sofa, pause it to go to the loo or make a cup of tea. And switch channels when it's crap.
Angelina writes the Mummy on the Edge column for Families NW London Magazine and runs Sing and Sign award-winning baby signing classes in Harrow, Bushey and Rickmansworth. www.singandsign.com.