Graham Chapman’s life was the tragic element at the heart of the world’s greatest ever comedy troupe, Monty Python. What a life; the first openly gay man on British television, the star of two of the best comedy films ever made and a man who drove himself to insensibility through alcohol. This one man show performed by George Telfer and written by Tom Crashaw is a testament to that life, a perfectly pitched elegy to a great and funny man.
The writing is a pure dream. Jokes come fast and furious, delighting in the absurd wit and wordplay that raised Python to the levels of greatness. It is abundant in ironies and paradoxes. For instance, it was of Chapman’s character in Life of Brian that the phrase ‘He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’ was first used and it’s certainly true that in his normal life Chapman was far from messianic. However, as the play poignantly recognises, because of his television career he became something of an unwitting messiah for the gay liberation movement.
Telfer is stunning. He is versatile, charming and unimaginably composed. He has all the sparkling wit of Chapman himself, but is also equally as comfortable with the quieter, tortured and more tragic side of his existence, sometimes slipping between these two states faster than you can sing ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’
This is important because while of course the comedy is often very silly (a policeman arrests Chapman for being too silly, and then another policeman arrests that policeman because such an arrest is too silly, and then another policeman arrests that policeman, and then another, until Chapman realises this is all getting a bit silly) it also has its darker side. The sight of Chapman laughing at his own mortality, cracking jokes in the face of oblivion was extremely moving.
On this note all of Telfer’s secondary characters are fantastically funny, including a spot-on impersonation of John Cleese that had the audience in fits of laughter. These secondary characters require some knowledge on the part of the audience as to the films and the sketch shows. Long-time fans of Python will get a huge kick out of this. However, even those uninitiated into Python (and if so what’s stopping you?) will find plenty to enjoy here.
One cannot imagine a better one man show done on the subject. Brilliant.