Having begun as the teasing suggestion of “For One Final Night Only” and then spiralled into a frenzy of demand following the initial show selling out in 40 seconds, the final performances of the greatest British comedy export are at last upon us.
A ten day residency at London’s O2 replete with many audience members costumed and quoting before they even gained entrance to the arena; there was both a highly charged expectancy and a palpable hope that the investment in the – shall we say “premium priced” – tickets would all be worth it.
Emerging from a ReTardis (seriously!), The Pythons – with a combined age of 357 – did not disappoint and were imperious as they staged a spectacular that preached heavily to the core fan-base and would have slightly befuddled those dragged along with little awareness of the troupe and their immense back catalogue of comedic gems.
The brainchild of Eric Idle, this extravaganza was ably supported by a full orchestra, a twenty-strong dance company and Carol Cleveland, returning to add a suitable feminine take to those moments when a man in drag just wouldn’t cut it.
The “set-list”, such as it was, was crammed with Python classics and whilst the 16,000 strong audience relented from a full on “quote-along”, the punchlines of their skits were greeted by raucous applause at every turn. Any new material was fileted into existing segments, with knowing digs at Michael Palin’s yawn-inducing travel programs and John Cleese’s alimony obsessed ex-wives bearing most of the comedic brunt.
Much has been written prior to the shows of their alleged money-grabbing aspect and the ambivalence that they Pythons would inevitably show towards the necessity of performing this nearly 50-year-old material one more time, but that simply was not evident. Perhaps Cleese was a little self-conscious during Idle’s frequent song and dance segments, but all of their comic timing was still immaculate.
Palin especially looked sharp as a button through the Spanish Inquisition and Blackmail skits and, whilst the two Terrys were equally bemused at times (they often sported such looks in the original TV series anyway!), Gilliam threw himself headlong into a frequent number of physical exertions which belied his 73 years.
A night for the fans then and a fine send-off for these talented septuagenarians. Any nay-sayers (or should that be “ni”-sayers) probably just wished they had a ticket, since the pride of being able to say “I was there” at a gathering that has not occurred since 1982 was a priceless experience that will live long in the memory.
Performed on Friday 4 July 2014 at London’s O2 Arena.