Blog Post : Monty Python and Francis Beaumont

I’m on the tube home after seeing (for the second time) the Knight of the Burning Pestle, by Francis Beaumont at the Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s a difficult show to categorise but I think director Adele Thomas’ term “Jacobean Rock’n’roll” is as good as any.

The Actors embark on a telling of the London Merchant, but the play is interrupted by a Grocer and his wife who thrust their apprentice Rafe onto the stage and get him to insert his own scenes based on their instructions. The players join in these scenes with initial reluctance as the original narrative of elopement is interspersed with scenes of damsel-rescuing and giant-slaying. The whole atmosphere inside the Sam Wanamaker playhouse was absolutely delightful. The audience laughed, we sang along and how we applauded.

This meta-theatrical device makes for great madcap slapstick humour – frantic fight sequences and knob-gags. The concept of Knight of the Burning Pestle seemed so modern that my father thought there must have been some modern additions inserted into the text, drawing on the likes of Monty Python. Which reminded me of the recent revival the five remaining pythons brought to the O2 back in July.

From my seat right at the back of the arena I remember being very underwhelmed by performances which, when I was first introduced to them as a teenager, I found absolutely hilarious.

I had gone with expectations of reliving some of that teenage glee, but for some reason the off-the-wall silliness of Pythons live left me very cold. I assumed that my tastes must have moved on and that now, as an adult, I am far too pretentious to find such absurd humour funny, that I need something altogether more sophisticated to tickle my funny bone these days. However, tonight’s trip to the Globe showed me I can still take great delight from silly, knockabout humour. So what was the difference?

It was partly to do with the intimacy of the venues. The Wanamaker Playhouse brought out the comedy in a way that the cavernous O2 arena never could. But I found there was a bigger more obvious difference between the two experiences. The performers at The Globe last night were enjoying themselves. They loved the show (however nonsensical) and presented it with glee to their audience. The Pythons on the other hand were not excited by their material, the love with which they first wrote and recorded the sketches and songs had somehow been lost over the years. And if the performers are bored by what they are doing – then surely the audience cannot expect to be entertained.

The most important thing any performer must do, if they are to really connect to their audience, is love what they are doing. The question this naturally raises is: is it possible to find love in everything? That may be the subject for another post.

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