An Interview with John Cleese

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John Cleese makes his stage writing debut with a hilarious new adaptation of Monsieur Chasse! by George Feydeau – a delicious blend of French farce and Fawlty Towers. Here, the Monty Python man talks farce, creativity and laughter

Your play Bang Bang! is an adaptation of a classic French farce – you must be a fan of the genre?
I’ve always loved farce. I also love that farce is constructed, when it’s good, in an incredibly clever way – a really great farce, like the French farces of 1900. 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?
I think the key elements of a farce are 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.

john cleese interview bang bang production

Daniel Burke and Tony Gardner in John Cleese’s Bang Bang!
Photo by Paul Whitemore

What’s your creative process?
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.

Why should people come and see Bang Bang!?
Well you know what they say about buying property don’t you, there’s three things… location, location, location. And the only reason, the only reason, anyone should come to Bang Bang! is to laugh, to laugh and to laugh.

Can you sum up the show in one sentence?
No. (Laughs)

Bang Bang! is at York Theatre Royal from 28 April to 2 May
Box office 01904 623568 and online yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

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