NAUGHTY BITS BEST LEFT IN
NO NAUGHTY BITS
By STEVE THOMPSON
Directed by ROSS JOLLY
The DOMINION POST season
at Circa One, Wellington
From 14 Sep 2013 to 12 Oct 2013
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 16 Sep 2013
After the high seriousness of Arthur Miller's The Price, Steve Thompson's No Naughty Bits would on the face of it appear to be a play to put lots of bums on seats: a piece of frivolity about an incident from the history of team Python.
And from the moment the two Stephens, Papps and Gledhill, appear in silly evening dress at the start to tell us that the comedy we are about to see is sort of not based on a true story, we know we are in for a Pythonesque evening.
Yet beneath the comedy serious intent lurks: the U.S.A. versus U.K. over such matters as their legal systems, language, cultural mores, censorship, the dangers inherent in the corporatisation of television, and – the really tricky one – the nature of comedy.
In 1975 Michael Palin (Andrew Foster) and Terry Gilliam (Gavin Rutherford) went to New York with an entourage of lawyers (only one on stage) to tackle the might of the ABC network which had bought and shown throughout the States the final Monty Python series (the one without John Cleese) and cut out, to Palin and Gilliam's dismay, numerous ‘naughty bits'.
The play, like The Price, takes its time to get moving. However, once moving it is unable, unlike The Price, to sustain the momentum. But it does find comic gold towards the end of the first act when Michael Palin completely loses his avuncularity in a lift/elevator and stops “being the nice British guy”.
It attains Pythonesque stature twice in the second act. First with Stephen Papps' marvellously idiosyncratic judge who wishes everyone would just sit down over cups of coffee and waffles and avoid long legal discussions. And secondly when a Python sketch is acted out in court with the naughty bits and then without to see if the cuts made a difference.
And during the court scenes an eyeless Statue of Liberty keeps flying at speed diagonally, vertically, and horizontally across the vast screen to underscore what has just happened in the trial. Throughout, Johann Nortje's AV designs are superb, capturing the spirit of Terry Gilliam's work but never copying it, which is something the playwright and the Circa cast achieve in regards to the inimitable – and let's be honest – often highly variable comedy of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
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