Monty Python is some of the most enduring comedy ever written and performed. The “Pythons” – Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam – captured the attention of the world in the 1970s. The surrealist, “anarchistic” comedy spared nothing and no one, lampooning everything from organised religion and politics to ex-parrots and the state of cheese shops.
The play, Pythonesque, written by Roy Smiles, is the last of a trilogy in which the playwright pays tribute to British comedy. The show is a zany homage to the Pythons, as told by Chapman, who arrives at the pearly gates of heaven in 1989 following his death from cancer, and is summarily denied access. After all, mocking Jesus surely means you should do some grovelling and explaining. In a series of flashbacks, Chapman recalls some of the defining moments of his career.
A host of stage veterans have been cast: Russel Savadier plays Graham Chapman, Graham Hopkins is John Cleese, Robert Fridjhon is both Terry Jones and Michael Palin while Theo Landey plays Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle.
The play, directed by Alan Swerdlow, is not merely a compilation of the group’s most famous sketches (references in the play suggest the Python lawyers wouldn’t allow the use of original material, lawyers being sticky like that). Instead, the show is a series of self-referential parodies of the most beloved skits, in the same style as the original films and series. Fridjhon explains that Pythonesque is not about mimicry: “it’s more sort of ‘flavour of’ [the Pythons]”.
The play runs at a frenetic pace, with dialogue faster than Jesus could cure a leper. Those who’ve never seen any Monty Python might struggle to make the connections necessary to appreciate the humour.
But Fridjhon believes the show is not necessarily just aimed at Pythonites. “It could be confusing and surreal, although we’ve had lots of people coming up to us, younger people, and saying they’ve never seen Monty Python before… and now they’re going to and watch [the films]”.
Pythonesque represents that dawn of British comedy. “It’s really where so much of what we watch today was born… It’s going back to the roots of a style of comedy that exists all over the world now. If you’re someone who likes surrealism, it’s for you. If you’re someone who likes silliness, it’s for you. If you’re someone who likes satire and scathing wit laced underneath the decorum of silliness, then it’s for you”, says Landey.
The play wonderfully inverts sketches like the famous ‘Dead Parrot’ skit (this time, it’s a budgerigar) and the cheese shop and the roles are brilliantly cast, with the actors struggling at times to contain their own laughter. Pythonesque is a look at the bright side of life, and no Python fan should miss it.
Below is my full interview with the cast:
Pythonesque is on at the Pieter Toerien theatre at Monte Casino until 17 May.
Tickets are available at Computicket.