Monty Python reunion: Dead parrot lives – but artificial hips put paid to silly walks

Ageing comics promise new material for O2 show - and did not rule out the possibility of future performances

It started well, the press conference to announce the Monty Python reunion show, not least because the first question was from an excited woman journalist from Spain, who wanted to know: “Why? And why now? And please don’t tell me it’s for the money.”

“Nobody expected the Spanish inquisition,” retorted Michael Palin on cue. Sadly, he wasn’t actually wearing the robes of the 16th-century Cardinal Ximenez he plays in that vintage sketch, one the O2 audience will surely see when the team appear together for the first time on a London stage for, wait for it, 40 years.

“I think the clever thing is that we waited until the demand died down,” said Eric Idle, after explaining: “We’re all trying to pay for Terry Jones’s mortgage.”

For all the gags, there was something almost tentative about their (30 minutes late) appearance at the Playhouse Theatre. It was a curious mix of the mildly surreal (the five titans who transformed British comedy began by talking unintelligibly all at once, like something out of a Beckett play) and the more conventionally showbiz.

The actor Warwick Davis was compère, introducing the “five legends”; an orderly, even counter-anarchic queue of reporters outside the theatre waited to have their names checked off before being allowed into the stalls; and there was the reassuring soundtrack of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, the epochal song Idle wrote to accompany the crucifixion scene at the end of the 1979 Life of Brian, a film so controversial because of its tilt at religion that it was effectively banned by 39 local councils.

So what would be the “modern, topical Pythonesque twists” that the press release assured us would be added to the “greatest hits” the comedy supergroup would revisit for an audience paying between £27.50 and £95 a seat (“£300 cheaper than for the Rolling Stones”) on 1 July?

“It’s a very difficult decision to take,” explained John Cleese, “because I remember going to the Royal Albert Hall to see Neil Diamond when he got booed in the second half for singing new numbers. People really want to see old hits but we don’t want to do them in a predictable way, so that it’s going to be a mix-up.”

They would include “some version” of the legendary Dead Parrot sketch (“It is no more, has ceased to be, bereft of life, it rests in peace,” says the parrot’s disgruntled purchaser) which Margaret Thatcher used in an attack on the then Liberal Party’s avian logo having reputedly asked her speechwriter if “this Monty Python” was “one of us”.

You have to hope, too that they will do the Bafta sketch in which Idle plays the lachrymose host “Dickie” Attenborough announcing: “David Niven cannot be with us tonight, but he has sent his fridge.” (Enter the fridge, wearing a black tie and pushed on stage by men in brown coats).

But there will be no “Ministry of Silly Walks”, said Cleese. “That’s impossible now because I have an artificial knee and an artificial hip.”

There would be “quite a lot” of material the team had “never done live on stage before”, said Idle, adding: “We hope people will have forgotten so they’ll appear new.” This was unlikely given the loyalty of Python’s multigenerational (and multinational) fan base, suggested Cleese. The main danger was that the audience “know the scripts better than we do”, Cleese added.

In what passes for the elegiac in Pythonese, the show’s publicity tagline is “one down, five to go” in memory of the death at 48 of the sixth team member Graham Chapman (“Biggus Dickus” in Life of Brian among much else).

Chapman would be “on screen” during the show, said Idle, adding: “We’ve told him we’re going on and if there is a God he’ll be turning up.” In deference to the five surviving members’ aggregate age of 357, Palin announced they had a back-up slogan of “two down, four to go”.

The O2 show, said Idle, would feature “a little comedy, some pathos, some music and a tiny bit of ancient sex” (tickets go on sale on Monday at www.montypythonlive.com).

Whether Idle, Jones, Cleese, Palin and Terry Gilliam can reinvent the revolutionary iconclasm they first brought to television entertainment almost 45 years ago, with a cultural influence way beyond the generations of comedians they inspired at home and abroad, remains to be seen. But retro or not, this will be a major event. Idle said the gig would be filmed and “we’ll try and flog it later”. They’re unlikely to have much trouble doing so.

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy