JOHN CLEESE is an incredibly funny man, and you might think that it would be hard to beat anything he’s written. But he knows different.
The actor and writer, who has probably tickled more funnybones than you’ve had hot dinners is full of praise for a 19th century Frenchman that few people have ever heard of.
John has taken the source material to create Bang Bang, which opened in Exeter earlier this month to rave reviews. It’s now on a national tour starring Tessa Peake-Jones, Tony Gardner and Wendi Peters, and will come to the Theatre Royal Windsor in early March.
Georges Feydeau wrote the original farce, Monsieur Chasse, on which Bang Bang is based. It tells the story of a man who tells his wife that he’s going hunting – but his prey is not what she is expecting. When Leontine finds out what her husband is really up to, revenge is planned, with hilarious responses.
“The plotting is so clever, it’s very precise, intricate and logical,” John says. “There are lots of twists.
“It was written by a mathematician with a sense of humour – I fell in love with his plays.”
John came across the Feydeau’s works a while ago, and pledged to himself that one day he’d read them all “and pinch all the best bits”.
That promised became reality when he found some in a bookshop.
“Monsieur Chasse was the first one I read, I thought the plot was fantastic, so much cleverer than so many plots these days. We’ve lost the art of plotting.”
And even though it was first performed in 1892, the story is “all completely understandable”.
“French farces,” John says, “other ones are around, but they are few and far between. This is the comedy I like the best – the ingenuity and the plotting.
“Monsieur Feydeau is a genius. The third act – that’s just brilliance.”
And John knows what he’s talking about. Anyone who has seen Fawlty Towers, his famous 1970s sitcom which saw him play exasperated hotelier with a temper Basil Fawlty, will know just how intricate his storylines can be.
“When Connie Booth and I were writing it, we’d spend a long time on the plotting,” he says.
Bang Bang gives him “huge satisfaction and great pride”, and he was full of praise for the team that turned his prose into reality.
“They’ve assembled these wonderful people,” he says. “The trouble is, I’m so old, I don’t know many actors under 70 now.”
But the casting has worked for him. “We’ve had so much fun rehearsing,” John says, adding that the cast’s acting abilities meant that he only had to make a suggestion and it would be incorporated into their performances.
And now it’s in the wild. As we speak there had been three performances, one of which was a press night, at the Exeter Northcott Theatre. The experience will stay with John: but it was not the sound of the audience laughing that was ringing in his ears.
“I was thrilled with the cheering at the end,” he says. “I got a great sense of satisfaction out of that. People really appreciated it.”
Bang Bang is at the Theatre Royal Windsor from Monday, March 9 through to Saturday, March 14. For more details, or to book, call the box office on 01753 853888 on log on to theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk