Opinion: Monty Python Reunion - Will It Fly Or Be a Dead Parrot?

monty python

Update 21/11: Ok, so now we know. The remaining Pythons will play the O2 Arena on July 1, 2014. Tickets go on sale on November 25.

I woke up this morning to find that overnight an invite to a "Monty Python" Press Conference on Thursday had dropped into my inbox. I wondered what that could be all about, but I didn't have to wonder for long. On the news the BBC announced that the surviving Pythons – Idle, Gilliam, Cleese, Jones and Palin – are going to appear together again onstage for the first time since 1998. No details where and when yet, but I guess that will be revealed on Thursday.

What is tantalising, however, is whether they are going to perform any new material. As far as I can remember their recent gatherings in various permutations have been to dust off old sketches. Will they be writing again? Will Terry Gilliam be doing any more of his distinctive animations again? I guess all we can be sure of is that they are being paid a generous fee for their time together. Terry Jones told the BBC: "I'm quite excited about it. I hope it makes us a lot of money. I hope to be able to pay off my mortgage!"

Of course, despite hovering around the post-pensionable 70-year-old mark they are all still creative to different degrees. Cleese did his Alimony Tour recently to fund his divorce settlement. Gilliam has a colourful film directing career. Terry Jones does various history things and Michael Palin, well, unless you've had your telly cut off for the last two decades, I'm sure I don't need to fill you in.

If they are going to produce new work, however, the hardest challenge may be for Cleese, who tended to collaborate with the late Graham Chapman. On the other hand, Cleese did tour recently, so he may be the most match fit. Jones and Palin wrote together, so presumably they could do that again. And Gilliam did his own thing, and occasionally popped up in sketches, so presumably he can get on with that and wait for small bits to be written for him. Michael Palin raised the intriguing prospect of using some unused Meaning of Life material. But if it was possibly cut because it wasn't up to scratch then, will it be any good now or will it just be of curiosity value? 

But do we want new Python gags? And can they recapture their surreal genius all over again? Do we want John Cleese walking into an onstage Apple Store and yelling variants of "This iPad is no more. It is a dead IPad". Do we need them dressed in smart suits yelling "Nobody expects the Jehovah's Witnesses". Could their Spam sketch be rebooted as a critique of post-Masterchef nouvelle cuisine, with jus, froths and foams all over a transport cafe menu? Personally I'd prefer to see them do golden oldies, but on the other hand I'd rather see them do a new sketch than hear a new Rolling Stones song.

Of course, the spirit of Python lives on. I spotted more than a hint of their reductio ad absurdism sensibility in Stewart Lee's recent rant in his Leicester Square Theatre show about UKIP, in which he looked at immigration over the centuries and imagined the evolution of humanity stopping if amoeba were not allowed into Britain. And Eddie Izzard's last show, Force Majeure, with his history riffs and bizarre juxtapositions, was his most Pythonesque performance yet.

I suspect, however, that if a live show is announced on Thursday we will get a greatest hits package, much in the same way that reunited rock groups tend to revisit the old hits. And maybe that's as it should be.  In the same way that the audience emits a collective shoulder-shuddering cringe when a sixtysomething band comes out with the dreaded line "here's a new track" I suspect if the Pythons tried to write something new it would be a pale shadow of their greatest hits. The best prospect for a reunion is a night of oldies and a singalong finale of the Lumberjack Song.

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