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I missed the first 30 minutes of this excellent play on BBC4, which re-imagined the controversy faced by Monty Python over their film, The Life of Brian. It was an hilarious and witty mix of imitation, story telling, satire and flights of fancy.

Then I watched a repeat of the television interview on “Friday Night and Saturday Morning” which forms the central incident in Holy Flying Circus. I was incensed that John Cleese’s cogent and insightful argumentation in the interview had been misrepresented in the play, mainly by ommission. But then I watched the whole play on i-player again and caught two very significant parts. At the beginning we are warned that some of what follows never happened and in a small vignette, Cleese explains that his character is based on Basil Fawlty and that in real life he’s really quite nice.

So, in fact, Tony Roche, the playwright, is knowingly and cleverly echoing the Pythons’ essential argument in Life of Brian and in the television interview. Don’t expect what you see to be the whole truth, think critically!

In this case, Roche deliberately filters the truth to support his chosen characterisation of Palin as the nicest man in the world and Cleese as Basil Fawlty, repressed, enraged and contrary. In every day life this happens too. A marketing manager may claim that a poor turnout to a product launch was down to insufficient advertising funds, ignoring the fact that a heavy storm may have discouraged visitors. Some people can’t see anything outside of their own frame of reference. There’s the joke about the actress playing the nurse in Romeo and Juliet being asked what the play is about. “Well,” she begins, “it’s about this nurse…”

In philosophy, this is called interpretivism. We make meaning out of our experiences by matching what we see and hear with cognitive processes that may be influenced by many things, including our values, prior experiences and self-interest. So getting to the truth about any issue may be impossible. What we see as “true” is what we can construct from comparing interpretations and subjecting them to critical questioning. Why might this person see things this way? What might be influencing their judgement? What is my own personal bias? Holy Flying Circus is a good reminder to us all of the value of critical thinking.