From the runaway rat in Fawlty Towers to Monty Python's cheddar shop, John Cleese has timed up 50 years of radiant unreasonableness. As his new parody Bang hits the stage, he discusses dread, Feydeau and his love of farce.
I’ve always treasured farce. Good farce. Bad farce is embarrassing. Worse than that. Excruciating. And there is a lot of it about, because performing farce properly is much harder than acting ordinary comedy. The difficulty is that absurd situations have to be made believable. So, on one hand, the logic of the plot has to be impeccable; on the other, the actors have to find a way of making very eccentric behaviour credible. When a character makes a choice about what they are going to do – where to hide, which lie to tell, whether to brazen it out – the audience must be able to believe that the choice was a reasonable one. In the Fawlty Towers episode about Manuel’s rat, for example, we have to believe the health inspector’s reaction to seeing a live rat presented to him in a biscuit tin: the staff simply carry on as normal, to convince him it didn’t happen.
So, the perfect farce performer is one who can go “over the top” and take the audience with them. The perfect farce script is like clockwork: the writer winds it up by carefully establishing certain credible premises, and then lets the whole thing unwind, with inevitable but startling logic.
Regardless of the colossal shams of Michael Frayn and Alan Ayckbourn and Joe Orton and Alan Bennett, my heart dependably backpedals to the late nineteenth and mid twentieth century and Georges Feydeau, the best of a yield of joke essayists who kept Paris interested amid the debutante époque time. He delivered more than 60 plays, and keeping in mind that he was viewed by peers as a decent famous performer, he is presently perceived as one of France's most prominent dramatists.
This article originally appeared on https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/feb/17/john-cleese-farce-bang-bang-fawlty-towers-rat-manuel-feydeau