On Saturday night I was lucky enough to have tickets for the much-hyped and eagerly anticipated Monty Python Live (Mostly) at the O2 Arena in Greenwich (formerly known as the Millennium Dome) for myself, Ste, and his parents.
Being in my early thirties (yikes, when did that happen?) I was a little too young to have been around in the Python’s heyday when as a comedy troupe they had a hugely successful BBC television series running from 1969-1974, but given that my parents and their friends were fans, my generation grew up knowing the songs, the infamous sketches and how to tell when a parrot is an ex-parrot. My friend Lydia’s older brother even had a labrador called Brian. And yes, he was a very naughty boy. Their abstract humour has been oft-copied over the years and influenced many comedy writers including Matt Groening and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and their distinctive style has even spawned a dictionary entry:
So I was as excited as anyone when the Pythons announced they would be performing one last show together before retiring, and couldn’t believe it when I actually got tickets, because they sold out in 43 seconds! So quickly that they added 5 more shows which also sold out rapidly. The critics naturally slammed them for ‘selling out’, but the five remaining members of the troupe (Graham Chapman sadly died of cancer in 1989) when announcing the reunion joked about the fact they were doing the reunion partly for the cash. John Cleese, who divorced a third time in 2008 said he: “had to earn money for the alimony!”, but they did also make over £20,000 for charity from the reunion shows, the last of which was broadcast live on television and in cinemas across the country, making it one of the biggest theatrical events I can remember.
Apologies for the photos in this post – I had only my mobile phone and the battery was dying which I needed to conserve for the boat ride home because I had the tickets on an app! So I didn’t take many, and those I did are not great.
Pre-Show Meal at the Big Easy, Covent Garden
Saturday night finally rolled around and Ste and his parents and I headed into London for the big event. We decided to eat in town first, before heading to the Arena, because pre-show even though there are loads of restaurants in the arena, it is always a bit too chaotic. I had been wanting to go to the Big Easy in Covent Garden, so booked a table for four of us. The decor in the restaurant wowed me from the second we entered, a perfect blend of Americana and vintage industrial and exactly what I’d go for (slightly toned down of course) if I ever lived in a warehouse conversion. The backlit bar stocked with every whisky you could imagine was also pretty impressive.
Less great was the service: our waiter didn’t know if the set menu was available, he didn’t know much about the dishes and seemed to be a sandwich short of a picnic or two. Half way through the evening the waiter changed and things improved but we still had to ask three times for a milkshake. We ordered a sharing platter of a little bit of everything, which was so enormous it was delivered to our table in a dustbin lid! We were all a bit shocked at how much there was:
We had chicken, ribs, pulled pork and cornbread with sides of chips, coleslaw and a very spicy tart BBQ sauce. They are very proud of the fact that all the meat is smoked long and low in their huge smokers in the basement, and thus it is served warm as opposed to hot. Jay Rayner, famous food critic, said a few weeks ago of the Big Easy: “If you like your BBQ – and I do – you will love this. And if you don’t, you are dead to me, on both counts.” Unfortunately it seems our relationship is now over. I love BBQ (as you may recall from my post the other week on BBQ recipes) but I didn’t love this. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t great. The sheer quantity was impressive, and I do think that their smoking process really adds something, but the meat on the ribs and the pulled pork were both very dry and hard, and the chicken, whilst still juicy, had plenty of taste on the skin, but the meat inside was lacking in flavour. The chips were awesome, as was the coleslaw, but the BBQ sauce was too piquant and not very pleasant, which was a shame as the meat really needed some moisture. At £18 a head, just for the food, I probably won’t be eating here again, but judging by how packed it was when we left (having eaten early), the rest of London disagrees. I won’t tell them about Porkys in Camden or any of the other, better, cheaper BBQ joints in town, so I can still get a table!
Getting to the O2 Arena – Thames Clippers
Having been to big events at the O2 before (Ste and I actually met at a Muse gig there in 2012!) I was not looking forward to the inevitable tube crush there, and the hours spent in a huge, hot and tired crowd waiting to board a train home at the end of the night. Our clever neighbour suggested a river boat instead! We bought tickets via a very good app (Thames Clippers) at £12 return from Embankment pier (a short walk from Covent Garden) to North Greenwich for the O2, which we then showed as we got on. The boat was air conditioned which we appreciated as our heat-wave is still going on, with a fully stocked bar, and comfy seats. It was a thoroughly pleasant way to travel and even better for the London landmarks we could see on our route: the National Theatre, the London Eye, the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge (the famous one often confused with London Bridge, which is just simple concrete and quite ugly), the Shard, and then further out of town all the wharf conversions and riverside pubs, as well as the Golden Hinde and the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Observatory. We docked at the Dome a two minute walk from the entrance. Later that night we smugly left the arena and headed down to the boat, got straight on and less than twenty minutes after the end of the show we were cruising leisurely back along the Thames to central London, this time seeing all the sights by night, with an ice cold beer in hand. No sweating on the underground for us. I am never taking the Jubilee line to Greenwich again!
Monty Python Live (Mostly)
So – the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the show! The atmosphere as we waited for the show to start was pretty electric. Lots of people were in fancy dress, having come as famous characters from the show. Lots of cork-hatted Bruces, philosophers and Gumbys. Here we are eagerly anticipating the start, Ste getting into the spirit of things!
I, along with probably every other fan, was wondering if the Pythons would still have ‘it’. After all, they are all in their seventies now and two and a half hours of singing and dancing in front of an audience of thousands is probably not most pensioners’ idea of a good time. We needn’t have worried. Whilst some of the dancing and singing was a little less lusty than in their youth, they’ve all still got that pizazz which makes them incredible performers.
Famous sketches re-created in their entirety (such as the Four Yorkshiremen (which I found hilarious as Ste is from round that way)) gave way to abstract video cartoons during set changes, to live musical numbers with a supporting cast of excellent dancers, to video footage from the original BBC series. The changes were almost seamless although some of the cartoon interludes weren’t quite my humour. The arena is huge and we were quite a way up the side on the left hand side (terrifying as you walk along to you seats – about three inches of concrete between you and the seats and a vertical drop on the other side with nothing to hold onto except the poor people you’re passing), but we still had a great view thanks to the screen projections which were well-filmed and caught every bit of the action of the sketches performed on a smaller set within the stage. The musical numbers were so ‘big’ we didn’t need the screens!
Audience participation was also encouraged with projections of words onto the screen, including to the famous philosophers song. With lines like “Aristotle, Aristotle, was a bugger for the bottle” it was pretty hard to sing along for most of the audience because we were all laughing too much. The transition from the small screen to huge arena was perfectly executed and made their final performance ever a hugely joyous occasion.
My favourite part was the re-creation of the Dead Parrot sketch. Cleese and Michael Palin were clearly having a wonderful time, at one point Cleese was overcome by giggling, which started Palin off, and they both descended into mirth before pulling themselves together and carrying on. There was much improvisation in many of the sketches and the offer of a slug as an alternative to the parrot was changed out for cheeses, with Cleese giggling through an unbelievable list of types of cheese. It was a delight to see all of them having so much fun on stage together, and even if it wasn’t word-perfect and things didn’t go quite to plan, I think that actually added to it. The lairy humour was still there, and still shocking and hilarious in equal measure. I think Ste’s face sums up the evening: