It is tempting to start this review with a Monty Python reference. There are so many to choose from, between the TV programme, films and recordings. And yet, I am going to fight temptation for the mere reason that Pythonesque is nothing more than one long Python reference.
Some shows are meant solely for an intended audience. Pythonesque is geared specifically to the fans of Python. Anyone not a fan will be left out in the cold because it doesn’t make any dramatic sense. Each scene is a loving tribute to a famous Python moment. There are hints at a plot, mostly concerned with Graham Chapman trying to get into heaven, but this is mostly sidelined to allow the cast of four to perform skits that echo, but never copy, the iconic moments.
Which is an absolute shame, because in the rare moments that Pythonesque tries to be slightly serious, it’s rather good. There are hints at solid ideas, including a look at how the six came to be a performance group, the effect of Cleese’s exit from the show’s fourth series, the struggle of getting financing for Life of Brian and a later trial in heaven that puts Chapman in the dock for blasphemy. But none of these are developed, only presented more as diversions from the ‘actual’ show, which is just a string of skits.
One can’t really fault the cast. None of the four particularly look like any Python, but their voices and mannerisms are almost perfect. And the production does look slick in design and direction.
But one must turn to Roy Smiles’ script. If you’re going to reference and celebrate some of the bravest writing of the 20th century, you better be good; Smiles’ writing is mostly mediocre. He takes the big scenes and rewrites them with new words and references. Those who know the sketches will immediately know what is being referenced, but those who don’t will wonder what’s happening.
Pythonesque is nothing more than a great missed opportunity. With all of the material available and potential in the concept, something better should have happened. Instead, we have a production that is nothing more than a ticketed impression similar to what one finds in most parties these days. A real shame, especially as the cast are so obviously game for something completely different.
Playing at the Underbelly until August 31.
Filed under: Edinburgh Festival 2009 |