Keir Dullea & Gary Lockwood Take the Stage

If there’s one film that gives us goosebumps every time it’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, screened here in glorious 70mm film print format with sensational six-track magnetic sound. If ever there were a case to be made for the virtues of the film print then this is the shining example. There’s so much depth to the image and such resonance in the sound that the film really interacts with you as a living, breathing entity. Awe is a word that’s not only fitting but absolutely necessary.

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As a regular fixture in our programming, 2001 has been shown at the Astor many times but what makes this next screening all the more special is that we welcome to the stage actors Keir Dullea (Dave) and Gary Lockwood (Frank). It’s not their first time at the Astor but it’s set to be every bit as special as it was when they first joined us back in 2006. Head to our YouTube channel to revisit their last appearance.

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During their first appearance here, Keir Dullea said of our 70mm presentation that it was the finest he had seen since its premiere in 1968. Certain we can replicate the experience again for him and all of you on April 11th, we screen the film with full overture and intermission, dimming of lights and opening of curtains done precisely to match the way it was seen all those years ago. It’s going to be a sensational evening, make sure you don’t miss out!

2001: A Space Odyssey + Live Q&A with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood takes place Friday April 11th 7.30pm, with autograph signing opportunities from 6pm **please note that there is a $30 fee per autograph.

Advance tickets available now.

A Funny Issue…

We talked about this late last year when we screened the Birdemic (2010, 2013) double bill – a pairing of two films that are “so bad they’re good” and, as such, incite laughter. One of our concerns however – in programming these kinds of cult films and also with our audience participation sessions of things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and The Blues Brothers (1980) – is that encouraging boisterous viewing practices (a LOT of fun in their own way) might have a negative effect on other, regular screenings at the Theatre. Unfortunately, motivational factors for viewer response is difficult to quantify without us conducting some pretty serious and in depth research which, currently at least, we are not in a position to undertake. As such, with some of our screenings having induced so much laughter it approached ridicule, despite their belonging to our regular programming strand, we need to continue the discussion.

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As you no doubt know, we have a strict no mobile phone/device policy in our auditorium. Strongly believing in the pre-multiplex experience and traditional modes of cinema-going (often including overture, intermission and always manual lighting concepts), we do expect – and are most often pleased to see – wonderfully respectful audiences. Thank you. There is, however, a relatively new phenomenon that we are still getting to grips with and that is, laughter during films that were intentioned, and are presented, in earnest.

Our relationship as a cinema with you the audience is one that is built on trust. It’s very important to us that you feel safe at the theatre and that you enjoy your experience. We are to a large extent responsible for orchestrating this and we take great pride in what we do. That’s why we go to  great lengths to talk about things with you either in person at the Theatre, over email, and also via our online platforms, be it Twitter, Facebook or this here blog. In short: we want to keep up our standards. Recently, we’ve had some complaints about disrespectful behaviour in the auditorium. Not the kind where people are doing outlandishly awful things or even the kind of annoying things you might find at the multiplex like people kicking seats, talking loudly, using phones, taking photos, etc. It’s that other thing – that harder to monitor and control thing: laughter.

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It happened in Halloween (1978), Barry Lyndon (1975), and now Rebel Without a Cause (1955)and East of Eden (1955). I’m fairly certain that the likes of John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan didn’t intend to provoke laughter. Moreover, the films, each of them well-revered and critically acclaimed (well, maybe not Barry Lyndon at the time it was made), certainly weren’t met with laughter on release. So what’s changed? The films, though all digitally remastered, certainly haven’t. This suggests audience – something that is of course subject to and sometimes even a product of its own time; socially, politically, culturally and environmentally.

I don’t like to use generations as a dividing force but there does appear, at least from what we’ve seen so far, to be a correlation between increased laughter and younger audience attendance. I’d like to make it expressly clear that we in no way wish to discourage younger audiences from seeing these films. Far from it – that’s one of our major joys; seeing younger generations discover classic and cult films for the first time. But what we do have to think about is how we can make sure everyone - of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life – can enjoy their experience at the Astor.

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So, this blog post is really just a starter for 1) conversation, but hopefully also 2) an appeal to everyone to be considerate of their fellow movie-goers. We can’t really stop a genuine response to something – and maybe you do find some of the dialogue dated, some of the acting hokey – but we can ask you to think about the context the film was made in; its own social, political, cultural and of course historical situation within film history. We are asking you to think about how your responses might impact upon others around you. Cinema-going is a shared experience and as things change, which of course they will continue to do, we’d like to uphold good movie-going values: consideration and enjoyment for everyone. It’s not a black and white issue and it is certainly something we understand needs further thought and discussion. So help us out and let us know how you feel about it in the comments section below.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Get Ready to Swing!

Every year we host one very special Sunday afternoon session with some good friends of ours. They’re musicians, maybe you know them? Well, when they get into the auditorium to do their thing the acoustics of the building really come alive. The building itself was designed by architect and acoustic engineer Ron Morton Taylor. His plans from so many moons ago (we’ve been standing since 1936 don’t you know?) coupled with those sweet harmonious sounds from the Cairo Club Orchestra brings about one of the greatest aural treats you’ll ever experience. They really do bring the perfect jazzy tunes to the stage to meet our art deco/jazz moderne design.

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Only a couple of weeks away now, we caught up with one of those cool cats from the Cairo Club, and here’s what they had to say about returning to the Astor:

I  like the Astor, ever since I lived in St Kilda as a young man, back when it was a Greek Theatre. The Astor has the BEST acoustics of any indoor Venue in Melbourne. There are so few of these late 1930s Cinemas left nowadays, Geelong lost the Wonderful ‘Corio’ Theatre some years ago. Theatres are a developers delight and as time go’s by there will be fewer of them left. Buck Evans (Piano ) is a veteran of the New Orleans Jazz scene and an Icon of the riverboats on the Mississippi, from Savannah Georgia buck plays a mix of Tin Pan Alley Hits and Stride Piano style, in the manner of fats Waller, James P Johnson ect. Nichaud Fitzgibbon needs no introduction as Melbourne’s most versatile and talented Song Stylist Vocalist.

Now because we’re visual nerds as well as aural ones, we like to make sure that the dizzying heights of their swinging sounds are matched with an equally eye-popping flick. One of the first and still one of the best backstage musicals, much thanks of which goes to Busby Berkeley, 42nd Street (1933) is a perfect film to follow up such an excellent act. The plot centers on the production of a new Broadway musical. There’s comedy, romance, betrayal and shapely legs galore. A priceless piece of early Hollywood fare that’s still first-class entertainment.

You won’t want to miss such a special Sunday afternoon screening, preceded by beautifully music, so make sure you get yourself a ticket. Special Prices, $25/$22, movie only $13.

The Cairo Club Orchestra will perform at the Astor Theatre before a screening of 42nd Street on Sunday March 16th at 2pm.

A Necessary Conversation

Martin Scorsese, a regular champion of that elusive thing we call ‘cinema’, introduced the new 4K restoration of Rebel Without a Cause at this year’s Berlinale. He posed the question, “What is cinema?” Simple yet complex, Scorsese answered himself, giving cinephiles everywhere food for thought, “For me there’s only one answer: it is necessary.”

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From our perspective, as a repertory picture palace, the term ‘cinema’ is more important now than ever before. Whatever we understand it as – place, activity, concept – it’s a living thing insomuch as it’s always in conversation with the world. Just like audiences, experiences and responses, it’s always changing.

This thing we call cinema is so important, especially as we try to navigate our way through its biggest change since the transition from the silent era into talkies. If ‘film’ no longer means the physical medium running through the projector, then maybe ‘cinema’ doesn’t mean auditorium anymore either. Perhaps ‘cinema’ has become more spiritual than that.

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If we start to think about ‘cinema’ as a term that encompasses its historic roots, as well as its social connotations, then we can start to see the picture Scorsese is painting. The reason it is necessary is because it is endangered. With so many film prints continuing to be junked (destroyed), at a rate and with a breadth that far surpasses the current efforts in digital restoration, we are actually losing content. So, what can we do? Well, the first step is to show the studios and those keepers of our cultural artefacts that ‘cinema’ is important to us.

If we don’t celebrate what we do have, it will wither and die. Celebration in our world is valuing and supporting the preservation and exhibition of moving image works – in both film and digital formats. Here at the Astor we try to bring place, activity and concept together so that ‘cinema’ has a home. The restoration work itself is of course important, but what’s necessary is the experience of seeing it, as a communal act, transforming that beautiful concept into a living thing. That’s how we start all our conversations with the screen.

The Astor Theatre is proud to announce the 4K digital restoration of Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which recently screened at the 2014 Berlinale, will have its Australian premiere in a double bill with the 4K restoration of East of Eden (1955), on Sunday March 23rd, 7pm.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Let’s talk about Disney – the winning entries

Last week we ran a competition on our blog following the recent conversation about ideology in Disney films. Thanks so much to the people who took the time to write in, your efforts do not go unappreciated! The responses were great and some of them made very strong persuasive cases and counterpoints which is what we were hoping for. We couldn’t choose just one winner so here are the two that really impressed us, and won themselves double passes to today’s screening of Pocahontas at 1.30pm.

Winning entry from Samantha O’Rourke, aka: hellofilmnerd.

Cinderella - Fairy GodmotherI love Disney. I especially love Disney princesses. Let me make no bones about my bias here. I am also a feminist who does not take ideological issues with the characters or stories because I view them outside the scope of our political context. I view them as individuals and characters, as role models for young girls the same way they were for me. While none of them are perfect they all demonstrate qualities which are admirable and worth teaching to young children, including girls. I’d like to focus on two particular targets of anti-Disney activists: Cinderella and Mulan.

I recently watched Doug Walker’s review of Cinderella where he summed up why I don’t take issue with the character perfectly, I will not quote him directly but I will take the essence of what he said, Cinderella is subjugated and treated poorly by here stepfamily and this is shown to be wrong by the film. What isn’t shown to be wrong however is Cinderella herself. She demonstrates kindness a strong work ethic. Although she is not satisfied with her position and does not know how to escape it she has not resigned herself to it and she continues to dream of escaping. This shows her strength of character, she has spent much of her life in servitude but has the will to continue in the hopes of a better life. She does not give up and this, in addition to her other characteristics previously mentioned demonstrate her validity as a character for people to aspire to emulate.

Mulan on the other hand reveals selflessness in her willingness to take on a potentially life threatening challenge to prevent her father from being forced into a position that would almost certainly kill him. She shows her determination when she decides to stay in the army and better herself instead of taking the easy route and leaving. While Disney undoubtedly has issues regarding race, class and gender many of the characters, including all of the princesses in my opinion, create strong and admirable role models for young boys and girls alike. And the films in which they star are often, if not always well crafted pieces of entertainment and all around beautiful films. They are a deservedly part of both the cultural zeitgeist and many people’s lives and in my opinion.

Winning entry from Phill Hall, aka thischristianguy.

lilo&stitchWhen thinking of Disney at its worst we could say too many Caucasians, poor female role models and saccharine schmaltz that can clog arteries faster than a life time of Big Macs. These complaints are not without merit as Disney did go off the rails for a while. However, there are gems that can be found. One of these that deserves attention is Lilo and Stitch.

Lilo and Stitch is more than about a child and her alien dog, because, the alien Stitch is a genetic experiment made to cause havoc on a global scale. Lilo’s parents have drowned in the sea, consequently, she gives the fish god “pudge” an offering of peanut butter sandwiches which is the opening scene. Lilo’s sister Nani is barely twenty and struggling to keep what is left of her family together. This may seem regular disney fare, though, dig a bit deeper and there is a message about family and identity that shines like the sun.

Ohana is the Hawaiian term for family, not just the nuclear family as westerners see, but the extended family or tribe. Similar words exist in Africa (Ubuntu) and in Maori (Whānau. Pronounced fa-nau). Lilo calls Ohana on her sister when Nani threatens to take Stitch back to the pound saying…. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind – or forgotten”.

Though the development of Lilo and Nani in the movie is limited their relationship is distilled in the chaos that Stitch brings. Meanwhile Stitch, a being created without a higher purpose has nothing to give Lilo and Nani but his destructive programming that threatens to destroy their already broken family. Ohana is the glue that keeps families together and creates identity. This is what Stitch gains: identity and self-knowledge through others. Ohana means without them, there is no me.

Stitch is nameless and possibly without a soul in beginning; just a fluffy ball of rage that wants to cause havoc to all around him. For those who treat him in kind he replies in kind. In contrast Lilo gives him a name, a family, an identity and a higher purpose. This is what redeems Stitch as he grows into his soul and gains his (for want of a better word) humanity. For this reason (and a few more) Lilo and Stitch is one of my favourite Disney movies, probably my number one.

Ed’s note: Many thanks to everyone who took the time to enter this competition, it was a pleasure to read your entries. I’m even a little curious about seeing Lilo & Stitch!

Let’s Talk About Disney

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I didn’t get around to watching The Little Mermaid (1998). It might be because – on a very basic level at least – I really don’t want to subject myself to the experience. Eighty-three minutes of phallic symbols? Sigh. I did however make time for Aladdin (1992), which is screening today at 2pm. My viewing experience hasn’t really inspired me to continue on with Pocahontas (1995). I’ve also seen Frozen (2013), screening today at 4pm, and I have to say, not only wasn’t I impressed with its half-hearted attempt to revise gender roles, but I don’t think it hits even the mark of the more recent Disney/Pixar collaborations such as Brave (2012). The absence of Pixar is, in my opinion, glaringly obvious.

Okay, so my aversion to Disney classics is evident and it has already been well documented on this here blog. The intention of these blog posts though was to create discussion and debate – lively, healthy and respectful – about Disney films and their ideological underpinnings. At the Astor we screen a lot of content that we might – as a group or individually within our group – see as problematic. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want people to enjoy the films – far from it. When we love something we share that passion with you. When we have reservations we share those too. We want you to do the same.

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So, instead of offering a reading of Aladdin (and selfishly saving myself the unnecessary pain of continuing in this painful plight), we invite you to make a case for one or more of the films. Tell us why – without simplifying the argument by suggesting that film is for ‘entertainment’ or that discussing agenda and ideology is ‘reading too much into it’ – you think the films deserve their place up on the big screen. Convince us that Disney is ideologically sound. That might be the biggest challenge we’ve posed yet but, if you’re passionate about the films, we want to hear why!

Email your answers, no more than 400 words, to: rsvp@astortheatre.net.au

The most convincing argument will win you a double pass to see Pocahontas next Sunday at 1.30pm!

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

The Astor’s own Apocalypse

As you’ve no doubt noticed, it’s been a little hot this week. Plants are dying, humans and animals have been reduced to weak, panting shadows of their former selves and, well, it seems 35mm film projectors are suffering too.

As you can see in this here photo, a part of our projector quite literally melted early last night (although before we took this pic some of the melted parts had been cleaned up – so much melting) An issue we haven’t really had to deal with before, this is not only messy (something our poor projectionist will spend the next few days cleaning and repairing) but it also meant that we had to cancel last night’s scheduled screening of Apocalypse Now: Redux. Running the film would have ruined the print. To make things a little bit more interesting still (by which we mean ‘This weather is unbearable and ruining everything!!”) the heat also managed to melt the belts on our air con meaning we will have to get that repaired again today too.

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There’s a storm and a cool change scheduled for later today and quite honestly, it just can’t come quickly enough. Rest assured though, everything will be back on track for tonight’s digital presentation of Road House with those two crazy kids from Cinema Fiasco adding live commentary throughout!

As always, thanks for reading and understanding. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m going to go get myself an Astor Choc-Ice and go sit in the dark.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Ideological Issues with Disney: Round 2, Mulan

I have to begin by apologising for not writing about The Fox and the Hound (1981). Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the film in time. I did, however, find time to take a look at Mulan (1998). I’m keen to talk about our second round of Disney films, and intrigued to see how much my opinions – as an adult first time viewer of these films – will contrast with those who have enjoyed the films since childhood. Essentially, that’s my way of saying brace yourself if you’re a fan because what follows won’t be love or adoration for the Disney treatment of gender and race.

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Based on the lengendary ancient Chinese heroine, Hua Mulan, who takes her aged father’s place in the army, Disney’s Mulan is set during the Han dynasty when the Hun army invades China. Reviewed and occasionally revered as being the Disney film with the strongest female character, Mulan doesn’t exactly pass the Bechdel test – all discussions between her and her mother, grandmother, and any other women are not only about men but precisely about pleasing them, with a view to obtain marriage.

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The film starts with Mulan being set up as a disappointment; though she is beautiful, she cannot perform her culture correctly. This is because she is a ‘White Asian’ (see more on that over at Asian American Feminist blog). The first song is about teaching her good taste, “When we’re through, boys will gladly go to war for you” and “You’ll bring honour to us all”. Having established that Mulan, failing in the traditional modes of femininity brings shame, not honour, to her family, she is sad because she won’t pass for a perfect bride, which leads to the next item on the agenda; poking fun at cross-dressing. Mulan is often depicted as two-faced; the promotional materials show her feminised face on one side of the sword and and her masculinised face on the other.

Then she teams up with Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, and so too the mocking of African-Americans begins. Relegated to comic sidekick – a precursor to his life as an ass in DreamWorks’ Shrek franchise – the role of the African-American is here one of both servant and misfit. Mushu, an unconvincing, smaller than expected African-American impersonating a Chinese Dragon joins Mulan, a cross-dressing woman, and Cri-Kee, an insolent mute cricket to complete the band of misfits meddling in a man’s world: war and masculinity.

Depictions of masculinity in this film are not exactly sound either. The song that boasts “I’ll make a man out of you”, defines the male gender for its relation to strength and discipline, along with an elusive extra-earthly quality, “mysterious as the dark side of the moon”. Just to recap: woman = beauty, subservience above all, they please men; men = strength, discipline and mystery that is actually not of this earth, hence women could never understand and should just be content to please the strong, disciplined, mysterious men.

imagesThen there’s the depiction of the Huns – whose visual signifier of race is darker (literally and figuratively). They also have beady yellow eyes, are physically larger to a point of ‘monstrous’ stature, all of which signifies they are evil. Presumably, with most of the Hun race now extinct, Disney didn’t anticipate much of an outcry over such demonsising animation. Visual tropes aside (and there’s a lot more to be said on this), the Huns are also depicted as more Asian than the Chinese Asians, most notably through their voices; pitch, tone and accent. The ‘good’ Asians in the film have American accents and either speak with flat or high pitched tones depending on the level of comic relief their character represents. The ‘bad’ Asians (the Huns) have deep, low pitch and tonality, and more ‘authentic’ (if we can at all use that word) Asian accents.

Finally, Mulan is exposed and shamed as a woman. Her only respite is that she saved China. Good thing too, because otherwise it’d be death and even greater dishonour. There’s more to chew over, including: the derogatory reference to menstruation where Mushu mocks Mulan, “Stand watch while I blow our secret with my stupid girly habits - hygiene“; the mocking of Asian languages by suggesting a sneeze is aurally equivalent to their names; the most telling line in the whole film which comes at the moment of gender reveal, “I knew there was something wrong with you – A WOMAN!”; and of course the final resolution where Mulan returns home to her family, her grandmother quick to remark, “She brought home a sword. If you ask me, she should have brought home a man.”, cue entrance of a man.

Thanks goes again to Disney for another astounding entry into my filmic education.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Mulan screens as part of a double feature with The Fox and the Hound today (Sunday Jan 5th) at 2pm.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nobody does crazy like Jack Nicholson. Cuckoo isn’t his only kind of crazy – you recently saw him on the SuperScreen in The Shining – Extended Version, cutting it up with an axe. Still, where Stanley Kubrick examines the effects of isolation and the persistence of the past, Milos Forman questions our very perception of what it means to be mentally ill. Through group therapy and a structured social environment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is a groundbreaking film that really changed the landscape for filmic presentation of mental health issues. It’s also an indictment on the structures of society and our inability to properly or effectively care for the wide range of individuals who attempt to co-exist within its strict confines, walled by harsh, prescriptive rules.

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When Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is moved to psychiatric facility for evaluation, following a short stint on a penal farm for the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, he believes the rest of his sentence will be a cakewalk. When asked upon arrival if he suffers from any mental afflictions, he responds, “Not a thing doc, I’m a goddamn marvel of modern science!”

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Despite the steely Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), McMurphy is all laughs taking it upon himself to be the leader of the group who – to him at least – appear to be “no crazier than the average asshole out walking around on the street”. Perhaps none of them deserves to be in there at all? Certainly they don’t deserve to be confined to boredom by a killjoy nurse – or so McMurphy thinks; he commandeers a boat for a playful outing, introduces prostitutes and other illegalities to his new-found friend-followers, protesting the stale, clinical conventions of the institution and indeed the broader social structures responsible for his incarceration. Still, the questions remain: who is actually bound by these conventions and who chooses to be?; who is free and who simply believes that they are?

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Not everything is as transparent as it first appears. Sometimes the fight is much bigger than what is directly in front of your face. Sometimes not all of the rules are visible.

Adapted from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the second film to ever win all five major Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Actress in a Lead Role, Best Actor in a Lead Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay – Adapted (the first was It Happened One Night in 1934.) Considered one of the greatest American dramas of all time, with a truly sensational performance from Nicholson, supported by the likes of Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, William Duell, and Will Sampson, this is a big screen must-see, now returning in remastered 2K DCP format, with 5.1 surround sound.

Screens Thursday January 30th to Saturday February 1st.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Boxing Day, the Box Office and Beyond

Every year Boxing Day sees the general release of the so-called ‘big summer titles’. Studios assume everyone who isn’t watching the cricket will be at the movies. Monday’s MCG admittance and multiplex box office reports sort of agree. Still, there’s a healthy enough number of you who want something else – something that boasts festive tradition and tongue-in-cheek frivolity at the same time – something Python-esque, perhaps! And for those needs, we are here for you: welcome to the Astor Theatre’s traditional Boxing Day Monty Python double bill. 

Life-of-BrianThings you can expect to see tonight at the Astor include but are not limited to; togas, miscellaneous plastic Roman get up, jesus sandles, fake beards, grails – holy and otherwise – and three men sewn into a single outfit.

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We welcome costumes and silly behaviour (please note that silly is not at all the same as rowdy or disruptive), we expect to hear giggles, chortles and rip-roaring snorting to the highest moments of parody, wit and satire. We also expect cackles and crack ups directed towards the slapstick and low-brow humour that accompanies the Python’s otherwise sparkling repartee.

imagesSo for those of you who can stay away from Middle Earth long enough, we’ll see you tonight. And remember: he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!