Those old blokes who used to be funny on the telly are back, with the surviving Monty Pythons reforming to earn enough money to buy houses for their children and their children's children, with probably enough cash left over to pay for two-bed flats for all of the children at all of the schools within a radius of 50 miles of their homes. But have they still got it and do we really need another update on the health of that parrot?
Monty Python Live (mostly) isn't bad: it gives the crowd exactly what they want but relies pretty heavily on the fan love and makes a hefty withdrawal from the reputation bank. It is in fact less satisfying than Spamalot - the stage musical version of their movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail – and it is in some ways a shame that this show could not have drawn more on their classic movies, the films on which their prestige probably now rests.
I was a fan of the Monty Ps from the start, and it pains me to criticise them. But this is desperately lazy production, resting on its laurels, uninterested in showcasing new material, relying on TV footage and the whooping adulation of an audience who know all the words.
Less impressive is the large number of vintage TV clips that play on giant screens between live sketches, some dragging on for several minutes. Almost everyone in the arena will have seen this footage countless times, and the few who have not could find it on YouTube in seconds. Even more problematic are the Broadway-style musical numbers, mostly written and performed by Idle, which rely heavily on a smutty and dated humour that feels more Benny Hill than Monty Python.
The two and a half hours in between suffered its moments of anti-climax, the Lumberjack Song felt strained, and the Ministry of Silly Walks hasn’t survived transplanting into a dance-routine with its funny-bones intact. But the joyous reprise of skits like Four Yorkshiremen, Nudge Nudge and Spanish Inquisition made you grasp what all the fuss was about and there's plenty more where that came from; the mash-up finale of Dead Parrot Sketch and Cheese Shop is worth the price of admission alone.
...plenty of scenes seem a bit flat, too... a cursory run-through of over-familiar material, making the jokey comments about only doing this for the money ring true. The Bruces sketch being the prime offender. Other sketches have not dated well – especially camp homosexuals or judges wearing women’s underwear under their robes; a once-provocative idea now beyond cliche.
The Python humour, at its best (and last night that mainly meant old film clips such as the 100 Yards Race for People With No Sense of Direction), is genius. At its less good it has aged. Innuendo no longer buys many spuds. Gags about the mentally deficient, gays and people with stammers are not much cop - but I did quite enjoy the camp judges.
What would the old Pythons have made of these sad old chaps? They might have taken the rise out of them. Maybe we should be more merciful and just thank them for the old memories.