Monty Python's Flying Circus... At Last, in French, Riverside Studios, London

Sholto Byrnes
Friday 04 February 2005 01:00

Around the time that Life of Brian was released, the Not The Nine O'Clock News team ran a sketch in which Mel Smith defended the Pythons from their detractors. "Have we forgotten how often they died for us - live, on national television?" he asked. The point was that in our elevation of the Monty Python series to the comic pantheon we gloss over the fact that some of the sketches were not very funny. So if Remy Renoux's production of a selection of sketches in French does not always work, at least he is being true to the original.

The advantage such a show has is the familiarity of the audience to the material. This is also a disadvantage, though, when the new team fails to reinvent it. The comic bafflement of it being in another language is not enough. Why go to see the "non-illegal robbery" in French when it comes across as merely a slightly plodding translation, or hear the "penis song" performed by a man who cannot bring Eric Idle's gusto to the tune? There were too many such moments in the first half of this show.

In the second half, however, the team imbued the material with such physicality that it did transcend memories of the original versions. "Man with a tape recorder up his nose", in which no words were spoken at all, was a triumph. One finger was displayed, and then inserted up the right nostril, starting a tape recording of La Marseillaise. Another finger up the left nostril rewound the tape, its owner's eyes rolling in time to the music playing backwards.

This, and the previous sketch about self-defence with fresh fruit, allowed performers and audience alike to warm to each other. So that by the time the actors started corpsing in "the travel agency" or "poofy judges", those watching were genuinely in on the joke. Sufficiently so, in fact, not to mind when during the race for the completely incontinent (in "the Olympic games") the performers started squirting water from their shorts at members of the audience.

The performers displayed an even greater willingness to strip off than Terry Jones did, although Python aficionados will be pleased to note that there is no "full frontal nudity". And it was when they went truly over the top, as in a magnificently angry version of "the argument clinic", or in "it's the arts", when characters from the previous sketch invaded the set, that we were most glad to affirm that Python is not dead; and it has not ceased to exist.

To 19 February (020-8237 1111)

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