By Gillie Tunley.
The talented Progress Theatre Company are presenting Steve Thompson’s vastly entertaining No Naughty Bits from Monday 16 to Saturday 21 January. The play centres on the controversial legal battle in 1975 between the Monty Python team and a US television network over the latter’s censorious editing of the comedy series.
The slickly crafted production by Aidan Moran opens on a typically 70s backdrop. We see a mild-mannered Michael Palin (Dan Clarke) and a brashly ebullient Terry Gilliam (Alex McCubbin) persuaded by the forthright Nancy (Kate Shaw), the US publicist, to travel to New York to see if they can cajole ABC top management into restoring the naughty bits. They are advised by the forceful attorney Osterburg (Matt Tully).
This inevitably leads to cultural collisions; the bemused executives (the prudish family-values Franklin played by Emma Sterry, and the dogmatic Fried played by John Goodman) protest that “people in Idaho will watch this… not just the East Coast intellectuals” although Palin protests that “belief makes it obscene.” Even the very nature of humour differs, and he declares that “the English sense of humour ends at Dover.”
The play gains momentum in the second half with the ensuing court case being played as if it were a Pythonesque sketch, and Richard Tripp in marvellous form as a laid back judge, laconically enquiring “wadda ya say we ditch this and have a cup of coffee? Maybe waffles with bananas?” A wonderful war of words follows between the opposing parties, abetted by the sardonic Myers (Trevor Dale), before Palin finally admits that the fourth series, without the tall one in the bowler hat, “stinks.” There is real contemporary resonance when Gilliam urges Palin to resist or “corporate America will come marching down Wood Lane.”
Dan Clarke perfectly portrays the calm, self-effacing Palin with just a hint of mania, which emerges when he is ‘niggled’. Alex McCubbin also brilliantly embodies the volatile and unpredictable creativity of Gilliam; he is a force of nature.
Aidan Moran and the entire cast and crew should be congratulated on a superb evening’s entertainment. Thank you for brightening a dull and stormy day!
No Naughty Bits opens at the Progress Theatre on Monday 16 January and runs until Saturday 21 January. Performances are at 7.45pm each day, and also at 2.30pm on Saturday.