Everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition, and, as with all things Monty Python, fans need to expect the unexpected, too.
Next month, the surviving Monty Python members will reunite onstage for the first time in almost 35 years -- and, they say, the last time ever. Fans understandably want to see the anarchic comedy troupe's classic skits. They're hoping for Spam, lumberjacks, dead parrots and of course the red-robed cardinals who burst in to proclaim: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"
Troupe member Eric Idle assures fans they will get the old favorites -- but they are also in for surprises. "I've got one or two up my sleeve that will absolutely freak people out," says Idle, who has taken the lead in assembling the 10 performances at London's O2 Arena.
The "Monty Python Live (mostly)" shows will take place between July 1 and July 20, with the final performance beamed live into movie theaters worldwide -- including hundreds in the United States. More screenings are planned on July 23, 24 and Aug. 6. Tickets for the U.S. screenings went on sale June 2.
"It's not five old guys on a stage doing old sketches," Idle says, speaking by phone from Seattle. The show has a budget of $3.5 million.
The 15,000-seat stadium will have a live orchestra, film footage, special effects and Terry Gilliam's surreal animation. Expect plenty of "rude songs and rude dancing" from an ensemble of 20 performers -- the approach Idle adopted during his performance at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.
"Who wants to look at a bunch of old guys? Put some attractive young people onstage," says Idle, who, at 71, is the youngest of the group. "That's my Broadway background. It's what I learned from 'Spamalot.' "
The sixth member of Monty Python, Graham Chapman, died of cancer in 1989 but will be present in recordings. Carol Cleveland, who appeared regularly on the Pythons' 1970s TV show, will also take part.
"It's a revue -- 'Déjà Revue,' as I call it," Idle says. "What I've tried to do is make a sort of necklace -- and we'll be the jewels. I've tried to make it segue into each other like the old Python shows used to do."
Idle began by approaching Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Jones for their favorite Python nuggets.
"I've tried to do things we've never done onstage, as well," he says. "Python has always tried to push the expectation level, and just be a little bit more than they could possibly hope for. I think that's one of its secrets -- it's always been, 'Well this will really surprise them.' "
Idle says he's looking forward to the live transmission's potential for chaos. "You don't normally have that opportunity to be dry and be embarrassing and hopeless onscreen."
Idle says the atmosphere among the five group members, while discussing the project, was "delightful" -- though Gilliam, now a film and opera director, branded the reunion "depressing" in a recent British newspaper interview.
"I think he's the most insecure about being in it," Idle says. "He isn't really a comedian. "But of course his animations are staggering, and at 80 feet wide they look great."
The five comedians have had their disagreements over the years -- but, crucially, they still make one another laugh.
"I think everybody is much mellower, and happy," Idle says. "People are very funny about each other. And sometimes people think we are attacking each other, but it actually is not that. It's permission to say anything, which is lovely."
Idle says it was "wonderful" to watch comedy partners Cleese and Palin during a read-through for the farewell show. "I could watch them all evening. It doesn't matter that I know the stuff. They're just funny. And that's what will make it special."
All the members of Monty Python have had busy solo careers, taking in television shows, movies, theater, books and opera. They've reunited because -- to be blunt -- they need money. The five were left with a large legal bill last year after losing a lawsuit brought by movie producer Mark Forstater over royalties from the stage musical "Spamalot."
"We were in a mess," Idle says, until an adviser suggested putting on a show to clear the debt. "It changed everything 'round, and everybody got excited."
But he says it will never happen again. "It's the last shout," as Idle puts it. "A) We're extremely old; and B) it takes a lot to get this sort of thing together. Everybody has other things they like to do."