Writer: John Cleese
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Bang Bang, based on an obscure farce entitled Monsieur Chasse by Georges Feydeau is currently embarking on a national run, following its premiere at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester in 2017. This new adaptation has been written by comedy legend John Cleese and given the sublime success of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python, expectations for his first foray into theatre farce has been exceedingly high. Given Cleese’s penchant for surreal slapstick, this seemed like the perfect partnership. While all the traditional ingredients of a successful farce are here in abundance, the result is a lack-lustre evening of theatre.
The plot centres on respectable lady of high society Leontine (Tessa Peake-Jones), who is being seduced by her husband’s best friend, Dr Moricet (Richard Earl) who is also an erudite poet. Leontine charmed by his poetry does not give in to his advances till she discovers that her hunting-enthusiastic husband Duchotel (Tony Gardner) seems to be spending his time away bagging females rather than hares or rabbits. An abundance of mistaken identities, door-slamming, missing trousers and lover-hiding ensues allowing the many secrets and intrigues to unfold in a whirlwind of farcical chaos.
While there are some moments of clever crafting within the script, the dialogue generally feels laboured. There is no denying that Cleese’s fingerprints are all over this play, with some noticeable nods to famous characters and scenes from Fawlty Towers such as the long-suffering maid Babette (Vicki Davids) who appears to be the only sane one in the entire set up (Polly?) and Basil’s beating of his battered old car with a branch. This time, however, the victim is a hat and Tessa Peake-Jones’s delivery doesn’t have the dynamism of Cleese’s original. Furthermore, Earl’s characterisation for Moricet which seems to have been based entirely on the exasperated, stroke-inducing Basil Fawlty, comes across as stale.
Tony Gardener is more successful as philandering lawyer Duchotel, who is haplessly trying to cover up his affair whilst his wife is being pursued by his best friend. Gardener deservedly received some of the biggest laughs of the evening, thanks to his impeccably dead-pan comic timing. There are also some nice moments of direction by Daniel Buckroyd, a highlight being the Python-esq scene change underscored by the dulcet singing tones of Wendi Peters. Daniel Burke also gives an energetic and engaging performance as lusty nephew Gontran.
David Shield’s functional set design perfectly captures the out-dated and misogynistic structures of the period and Aly Fielden’s costumes are exquisitely in keeping with the comedy of manners style. The experienced cast also do a commendable job, overall, in bringing this flawed script to the life. Whilst the breaking of the fourth wall generally doesn’t work, there are some moments when the play turns the spotlight on the constructs of a farce; Burke commenting on his character’s hiding in a wardrobe being a ‘little cliché’ is a nice touch.
While on paper Bang Bang should be a roaring success, it disappointingly feels dated and uncomfortable from the outset. There may have been a reason why the original play was consigned to obscurity and sadly even the Godfather of surrealist comedy’s re-writes couldn’t rescue it.
Runs until 22 February 2020