Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Three very accomplished performers play the Pythons, and deliver their biography in the manner of… the Pythons! All cleverly penned by the talented Roy Smiles.
Pythonesque, a staged biography of the Monty Python team, performed in the style of the Pythons begins with the death of Graham Chapman in a white suit. We’re in Heaven and Chapman wants the story told with "gravitas".
What unfolds is the story that reaches back to the days of Cambridge and Oxford, the men-only Cambridge Footlights, the day of John Cleese’s audition, and essentially a tale of "The birth of silliness". We are helped to re-imagine Cleese’s audition with his signature silly walk. It’s done extremely well!
Michael Palin met Terry Jones at Oxford and we’re taken through the early days when they sent sketches to the Frost Report and finally broke through with their own show. Frost is portrayed as ego-personified.
In a show overflowing with skilfully done Python pastiche, Pythonesque really does recapture the flavour of Pythons. The clever use of original sketches and characters to tell the Python story is supported by varying qualities of impersonation (though mostly of a very high standard). The show is a series of episodes, interspersed with the characters’ own observations, and an occasional return to Chapman in Heaven.
The theatrical flaw at the heart of this show is that, though interesting, mostly to purveyors of Python, the Python story just isn’t as funny as the Pythons themselves were in front of the cameras. Off-screen, these were not people who WERE Python, they were four men DOING Python.
The audience were mostly sniggering; Python is now a bit dated so the "tribute" element drew on characters and sketch material that felt a bit documentary rather than revived-fresh. Even the version of the Parrot Sketch simply revealed how much time has slipped by.
The Pythons did break new ground, especially in the early days, and this show impressively recreates many of those moments. The material is well chosen and transposed skilfully into the biography.r.
Jones and Idle are done particularly well. The show also poses intelligent questions. Did Spike Milligan claim the true "silly" territory first? Did the Python’s not like Women? (The Carol Cleveland scene was very sharp and funny). What was Gilliam’s relationship to the team? Three bitter Alan Whickers also have a marvellous go at Michael Palin, and his emergence as a travel broadcaster.
All three pertormers give full-on performances, observing the characters impressively It goes without saying, you’ll need to be a Python fan to really engage with this.
Overall, thls is a sterling production and the feat of recreating the Pythons and unfolding their story in the ‘Python’ manner is successful.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t a rich enough vein for sustained comedy. As biographical theatre, it is innovative and enjoyable. I believe the Pythons would enjoy the tribute; if you are a Python fan, I thlnk you will too.