Pythonesque @ Udderbelly’s Pasture, Edinburgh

cast list
James Lance, Mark Burrell, Matt Addis, Chris Polick

directed by
Michael Kingsbury
The format is a familiar one. Take a famous comedian or two, possibly dead though thats not essential, and tell their story through a mixture of biographical material, famous routines and sketches and a seasoning of self-reference.

Its been done with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with the Goons and now the same formula has been applied to the Pythons.

A white-suited Graham Chapman has shuffled off this mortal coil and is conversing with a clip board-toting jobsworth at the gates of heaven. Will he be allowed in, despite all that business with The Life of Brian, or will he be sent to the other place?
There we go: thats the plot in place. What keeps this watchable and entertaining is the slickness with which it has been put together, even in a chilly hall on the Fringe with a limp back cloth and minimal props there was a tightness to proceedings, and the performances, while often just a collage of vocal and physical tics, were very capable.

Roy Smiles play (he also wrote the similarly structured Ying Tong about the Goons) rattles through the Pythons early Oxbridge years, through their time working for David Frost which eventually led to the opportunity to branch of on their own and write their own sketch show. The films are also covered, including the (over)reaction to The Life of Brian, which they stress was never intended to mock Jesus Christ, rather organised religion and zealotry in all its forms.

Michael Kingsbury’s production is all very pleasant and amusing and quite clever in places. Their best known sketches are all present and correct: there are Yorkshire men and lumberjacks and members of the Spanish inquisition, and, inevitably, a rather poorly bird in a cage (though in this case it is a budgerigar rather than a parrot), but these sketches are not simple regurgitations, they have been tweaked and twisted to put the Pythons in context. The Yorkshire men sketch is used to remind people of how ropey a lot of TV comedy was at the time the Pythons started out and, later, James Lances Eric Idle launches into a tirade about the enthusiasm of some of their fans

Its the cast that really make the production come together. Mark Burrell is all limbs as Cleese and does a delightful silly walk, while Lance throws himself into the roles of both Idle and the smoothly Californian Terry Gilliam, at one point fighting with himself as Idle and Gilliam squabble over having to share the same actor. He clearly relishes Idles verbally acrobatic rants and at one point, his energy is such that he inhales part of his prop moustache and the other cast members have to cover for him and try and maintain a straight face as he coughs and splutters. Matt Addis also juggles two roles, playing both the impossibly nice Michael Palin and the rambling, ever digressive Terry Jones; Chris Policks Chapman is the least caricature-like of the performances but gets rather swallowed up for precisely that reason.

It is Policks Chapman who at one point remarks: this is hardly theatre, is it? Its just a loosely linked series of sketches, he says, with no moral centre. But just because they draw attention to the limitations of the show, it doesnt get around the fact that it is limited. Most Python fans will learn nothing much they didnt know already and there is a sense of purposelessness about the experience. Its all very well done but it feels a bit like a product, written with a checklist rather than with the fire of inspiration.

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