Theatre Review: Pythons Strike Twice, Or The Full Monty Modified

May 3, 2015



Pythonesque / Directed by Alan Swerdlow / Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre    


Playwright Roy Smiles’ affectionate homage to Monty Python has received a polishing and a tweak or three since its last run in South Africa in 2008, and the result is a brilliant new piece that builds on an old piece that was built on several old pieces, the latter group crafted by the timeless collective genius of Messrs Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Palin, Jones and Gilliam.

Smiles, as well as the cast and director of this production – Graham Hopkins (as John Cleese), Theo Landey (as Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam), Rob Fridjhon (as Michael Palin and Terry Jones) and Russel Savadier (well cast as Graham Chapman, despite being probably two feet shorter than the late Python), with Alan Swerdlow just about keeping the sublime silliness in check – have updated Pythonesque to reflect current affairs and the physical context in which the show takes place. That this works well is not surprising, as the Monty Python’s Flying Circus series did something similar, though the happenings of the day (England in the Sixties and Seventies) were so hilariously mangled after being shoved through a sieve of surrealism as to be all but unrecognisable.

Pythonesque, like the Flying Circus episodes, comprises a series of sketches, even as it seeks to construct a narrative about Chapman’s efforts to convince the keeper of the less-than-Pearly Gates that he’s worth letting in to Heaven, despite being a central figure in such apparently blasphemous works as The Life Of Brian. It’s a structure that works well, different to the conventional A to B idea, but not confusing, and enjoyable taken in either bite-size pieces or as a longer story.

What is highlighted – and this sound strange, given the profound absurdity of much of the material – is the unashamed celebration of intellectualism that Monty Python put at the centre of their writing. It’s quite possible to miss a few subtleties here and there amid the myriad cultural, historical and comedic references, but both the original writers and Roy Smiles – in his clever re-imaginings of iconic situations (here, for instance, the customer is singing the praises of the bird he’s bought from the pet shop, rather than threatening to sue over its shortcomings) – refuse to make their work simplistic. Sometimes simple, yes – there are sight gags as well as written ones – but never one-dimensional.

The four actors playing the six Pythons commit to their craft with commendable vigour. There are quick changes, split-second timing, and passages of incredible verbosity, the best of which are the long, riotous rants delivered by Landey as Idle. Savadier’s interpretation of Chapman includes a touch of pathos – no bathos, certainly – that rings true to anyone who’s read biographies of the late comic and is aware of his struggles with addiction, his sexuality and, to some degree, with his success.

Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Swerdlow and his actors is that, in the warping of theatrical mores that occurs in this production of Pythonesque, they’ve captured the wonderful, anarchic energy and vision of the writers and performers the piece pays tribute to and, as such, this is about as close as Monty Python devotees are likely to come to new material from the celebrated collective.