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Monty Python's Flying Circus in French
by Lizzie Loveridge

Et maintenant pour quelquechose complètement différente!
--- Monty Python's Flying Circus in French
Monty Python's Flying Circus in French
The cast
(Photo: Remy Renoux)

What could be more nostalgic for those fans of the 1970s BBC comedy heights of Monty Python's Flying Circus than to see their best loved sketches revived on the stage? The catch is of course that in 2005 Monty Python will be staged with a différence, in this case completely in French. This unusual revue was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival 2003, has ooh la la'ed Paris for two years and has now found its way to the Riverside Studios for a London run.

I was expecting a show in fra-anglais of the kind that Eddie Izzard musters in Paris but instead Monty Python's Flying Circus in French is a fully French language version with English surtitles for those not familiar with the linguistic intricacies of the French argot. The audience too had a large contingent of French national and native speakers. Therein lies the first problem -- the surtitles inhibit any spontaneity from the French cast, any chance to improvise and go with the sketch. Much of the first half is material culled from the original BBC series (in fact only the original Monty Python team are credited with the script) but the writing has been modified to allow greater licence with some nudity and language that Auntie BBC would not permit in the Mary Whitehouse censored days of the 1970s.

The French cast work very hard, opening with the Pavement RockClimbing "Alpinistes" ascending the north face of the Riverside stage (on the horizontal in case you haven't seen the skit). Deviating from Monty Python's all male troupe, Marie Parouty represents women very well but the down side is that we lose those gorgeous female characterisations of Terry Jones, Eric Idle, John Cleese et al in headscarves and twin sets aping middle aged biddies.

The sketches work best when they employ impossible logic, the man who has paid for an argument is challenged by the arguer that he has not paid in "La Dispute", and the interview with dead people when the interviewer is faced with a row of empty chairs. There are audience cringing moments when the culmination of the politically incorrect Olympics (race for deaf athletes who cannot hear the starting pistol) is the Marathon for the incontinent where the audience are sprayed with what one hopes was water pistols as athletes holding their own attempt to control their unreliable bladders.

It is a fun evening which reminds us how very Gallic was the original Monty Python humour but too often misses in the nostalgia stakes. The dead parrot sketch is alluded to but never played, a little like the Queen without "Bohemian Rhapsody". The Lumberjack song doesn't hit the spot as the guy singing it wears a fur bikini bottom. The deliciousness of the TV version was the titilating contrast between the macho lumberjack and the increasingly extreme flight of the ridiculous as the lumberjack confides, "I cut down trees. I wear high heels/ Suspendies, and a bra."

Monty Python's Flying Circus in French
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Directed by Thomas le Douarec

With: Charles Ardillon, Gregoire Bonnet, Yvan Garouel, Eric Savin, Marie Parouty
Sound and Lighting: Julien Ribes
Running time: Two hours fifteen minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Booking to 19th February 2005.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th January 2005 performance at the Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)
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