To call Monty Python the Beatles of comedy is no exaggeration. So this reunion show - their first performance together since the Hollywood Bowl gig in 1980 - is, despite being an obvious cash cow, something very significant indeed... but oh, what a disappointment... A tired, cynical rehash... interspersed with lengthy video clips to remind us all how good they used to be... It's a shame to see such extensive screening of material that's readily available on YouTube … most of the key sketches - from the Albatross to the Dead Parrot - struggle to be anything but pale imitations, lacking the palpable sense of anarchic fun they once evoked.
After the hype, speculation and shameless self-publicity the surviving Pythons finally got down to the seriously funny business of actually performing last night. The first of ten shows at the O2 Arena did not offer many welcome surprises, but there was no doubt that in terms of successfully revisiting past glories John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam delivered… The new twists were the least successful elements. The young dance troupe, choreographed by Arlene Phillips, mostly kept the energy up, but their much-talked about high-kicking Silly Walks interpretation was a bowler hatted let-down.
… It was a golden-oldie recapitulation of their greatest hits, padded out with song'n'dance ensemble numbers from a chorus young enough to be the Pythons' grandchildren. This show is reputedly for John Cleese's alimony bill but in truth the whole surviving crew – Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones – are submitting to the awesome power of market forces... Not a great deal of effort has gone into updating the script… Everyone wants the Pythons to do the classic stuff and so they did.
Forty-odd years since Monty Python took the TV world by storm they've invaded the O2 Arena … Could they get away with it?… It occurs to you that, while the Pythons would like to claim kin with English music hall tradition, they're much keener to come on like they're the alternative to The Book of Mormon... Some of the old sketches are still very funny. I laughed like a drain at the football match between the Greek and German philosophers. But WT Actual F? Have we been dragged to the O2 at vast expense to watch material you can find on the DVD of And Now For Something Completely Different?... 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...
This is a celebration, and if you're in the fan club - if you're not what are you doing here? - you will cut these comedy pioneers the requisite slack... You notice, as they sit down for the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, that their performances have lost pace... Gilliam is not a natural actor, yet he has a magnetic energy that age has not dimmed as he performs Gumby flower-arranging or flanks Palin as Cardinal Fang in the Spanish Inquistion sketch... And Eric Idle, the show's director, clearly loves his every moment on stage. He sings his songs (including an encore of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"), he joins Palin as a camp judge slipping into sexy female undergarments, he relaxes the audience.