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Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2009
See Cleese's first audition. Hear the simpering paternalism of David Frost. Be touched by the religious furore over the Life of Brian. Comprehend the true meaning of the coconuts in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!
Pythonesque – Fringe 2009
And now for something completely pointless. A retelling of the Monty Python biography, using sketches in the style of the original.
Such is the devotion of the fan base that there’s almost a guaranteed audience for anything Python-based at the Fringe. Such a crowd will already by familiar with all the stories told in Pythonesque, while the obviously derivative comedy element isn’t funny enough to stand alone. That’s why the show is in the theatre section of the Fringe programme, no doubt. But then there’s not a lot of drama going on here, either.
The saving grace comes from the performances. Four actors have to cover all six Pythons, plus a smattering of supporting characters from David Frost to Alan Whicker.
Mark Burrell does an excellent John Cleese, even though he looks more like Benny Hill’s sidekick Henry McGee, mixing both pomposity and flamboyantly silly walks, despite the platform shoes he needs to wear; whereas Chris Polick struggles to perfectly imitate Graham Chapman, but has the right level of aloof bemusement at the madness around him.
Two actors have to double up – a fact they never tire of reminding us: Matt Addis is brilliant as the amiable Terry Jones, although his Michael Palin can only be described as ‘nice’; while James Lance needs spirit over subtlety for his performances of Eric Idle’s exaggerated characters or Terry Gilliam’s American drawl.
We start with Chapman arriving at the pearly gates, only to be told by a flat-capped jobsworth he must justify his career before gaining entry. Cue flashbacks, beginning with Cleese’s Cambridge Footlight audition – which contains the annoyingly incorrect suggestion that Cleese changed his surname from Cheese for showbusiness reasons, when his father was the one who chose to ditch the family name.
The Python back catalogue is subsequently plundered – though never directly cribbed for copyright reasons. Four Yorkshiremen discuss the dire state of television before Python, Whicker Island is parodied to tell us that Palin makes travel programmes now, and a man brings a budgerigar back to a shop because… well, you need to include the Parrot Sketch, don’t you? Oddly, this is one that actually works quite well, standing alone because of its subversion of the original, rather than simply lifting the once-anarchic scripts and rewriting them to somehow fit an episode of Python mythology.
This might have passed more muster as an enthusiastic but misguided student revue, but there are clearly greater ambitions for this tightly-directed show. The writer, Roy Smiles, has built a career on plays about bygone comics – and will surely be hoping to replicate the success of his Goons tribute Ying Tong.
But empty tribute is all Pythonesque seems to be. Anticipating the criticisms, the Chapman character throws his hands up at one point and laments: ‘Is this it? A series of interrelated sketches about the Monty Python team? It’s hardly theatre, is it?’ But drawing attention to the fact, doesn’t make it any less true.
|Date of live review: Wednesday 19th Aug, '09|
Review by Steve Bennett
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