JOHN CLEESE takes our Q&A ahead of his stage-writing debut with Bang Bang! at York Theatre Royal

COMEDY legend John Cleese will make his stage-writing debut with Bang Bang! at York Theatre Royal this spring. The show is a new adaptation of a Monsieur Chasse! by George Feydeau – a classic comedy that blends French farce and Fawlty Towers.

The cast features Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel from Only Fools and Horses), Tony Gardner (Last Tango in Halifax),Wendi Peters (Cilla Battersby in Coronation Street) and Vicki Davids, Richard Earl, Daniel Burke, Andy Secombe, Simon Desborough and Mikheal Deville.

John said: “Farce is my greatest love – Fawlty Towers consisted of 12 farces – and I think UK audiences will love this hilarious classic.”

A spokesperson for the cast said: "Mr Cleese does not appear in this production – he wanted to, but we wouldn’t let him!"

So what's it about?

When Leontine (Tessa Peake-Jones), a respectable society lady, discovers that she’s been hoodwinked by her husband Duchotel, who’s always pretending to go hunting but really chasing after other ‘prey’, she vows to take revenge on the philanderer.

But while Duchotel’s away, his lifelong friend comes calling – and he’s on the hunt too. Will Leontine get caught in his sights, or instead set a trap of her own? Secrets unravel as the devilish Duchotel finds himself snared in a door-slamming, trouser-dropper, balcony-climbing night of chaos set amid the stylish apartments of Paris.

Let’s talk farce…

John Cleese: I’ve always loved farce. I also love that farce is constructed, when it’s good, in an incredibly clever way. And I like the theatre because in farce, there’s a lot going on and you can’t pick it up with just one camera. If you try to shoot a wide shot for television it’s too wide, but if you’re sitting in an audience you can see the whole stage and you can see him and her at the same time, and see them interact – without some editor choosing what you’re going to see. Farce in the theatre is, I think, the thing that makes me happiest.

What makes a good farce?

JC: I think the key element of a farce is the structure of the plot and if I was to give advice to young people who are interested in farce, what I would say is get the story right before you start writing the dialogue. When Connie and I were writing Fawlty Towers, we didn’t write any lines of dialogue for about two-and-a-half weeks. We just sat trying to figure out what made the plot work. A lot of writers almost come up with a straight plot and then they have to write lots of jokes, because the situation is not very funny – but if you can write funny situations then writing the dialogue is easy because you just have to act out that situation.

Discuss your creative process...

JC: Well I lecture on creativity and I’m absolutely convinced that everything that’s really original comes from the unconscious – you don’t have control. This means that you have to understand how the creative process works, which is that you have to get in a state of mind where you can keep focus on what you’re doing – without it being a furrow-brow, studying-late-into-the-night intensity. And why the people who commission scripts often get it wrong so much, is that they don’t give writers enough time. So they are immediately saying ‘I want something Wednesday week’ and the reality is if you want something Wednesday week I don’t have time to think of anything original.

Can you sum up the show in one sentence?

JC: No. (Laughs)

Bang Bang! is at York Theatre Royal from April 28 to May 2.

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