An Evening with John Cleese @ The Princess Theatre, Melbourne, AUS. March 2012

I did not anticipate that I would attempt to write a review after seeing one of comedy’s legends. I intended to enjoy the show, be captivated in the moment and simply bask in the glory that is John Cleese. How could anyone do otherwise? The wonderful side effect of close proximity to truly talented individuals is that their fire and spark for life is infectious. People whose creativity and imagination have taken them to such heights are like a drug for the rest of us. The synapses start firing and the mind cannot rest until it finds a way to release the excitement. So here is my ode to Mr Cleese.

I did not anticipate that I would attempt to write a review after seeing one of comedy’s legends. I intended to enjoy the show, be captivated in the moment and simply bask in the glory that is John Cleese. How could anyone do otherwise? The wonderful side effect of close proximity to truly talented individuals is that their fire and spark for life is infectious. People whose creativity and imagination have taken them to such heights are like a drug for the rest of us. The synapses start firing and the mind cannot rest until it finds a way to release the excitement. So here is my ode to Mr Cleese.

The Comedy Club Melbourne was a perfectly intimate venue for the occasion. Even those of us in the ‘nosebleed’ section could make out the finer details of the now seventy-two year old performer. 774 ABC radio host Richard Stubbs played the role of interviewer for the first half of the evening. When Stubbs first stepped onto the stage to introduce Cleese I worried that he would try and take over the show but instead he played his part wonderfully, staying with, what was clearly a well thought out and carefully considered script. Stubbs prompted Cleese occasionally and brought the adventure back on track from time to time but mostly he just stayed quiet and let Cleese do what he does best, storytelling through jokes and anecdotes.

It was difficult to believe that for a little over two hours of my life I was in the same room as an individual whom I had seen on television so many countless times. Here he was, all six feet five inches of him: a physical being, living breathing and generous with his time. I always find myself wondering what is going on inside the mind of someone like Cleese before they appear on stage. Is he nervous, perhaps feeling run down, or wishing the whole thing to be over with? Once on stage, what is the sensation like? Knowing that every single set of eyes staring down has forked out a rather large sum of money, made the journey to be at your show, and are now all waiting expectantly for you to do something amazing?

Each member of the crowd would likely have watched everything that Cleese had ever produced and for us he is a familiar face, with a myriad of lines that we quote to one another and characters that we can attribute to someone we know. For us we feel we know Cleese but for Cleese we are really nothing but strangers. The audience has expended much energy in appreciation of Cleese and this did not go unnoticed by him. Though strangers to him his attitude was affable. He spoke as he might have had the venue been a quiet room of family and friends.

Cleese’s show cannot be critiqued as any other comedy or stand up act might be. As the title states An Evening with John Cleese is just that. Supported by a projection of photographs and clips, Cleese shows us the adventure that is his career. There is no wild performance or outlandish observations of the world at large. Cleese offers his audience a poignant insight into himself, his personal history and his journey to fame and fortune; a journey that he unashamedly attributes largely to luck. Cleese takes us from his quiet childhood in Somerset, to his experiences at Cambridge University with the Footlights drama club, being plucked from obscurity by David Frost, meeting and working with the Monty Python crew and his experiences writing Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda.

I did hold out some hope, perhaps naively, that we may get a glimpse of a goose step or a re-enactment of a silly walk but after the fist half of the show Cleese announced that we would take a short break and that he would lie down as after all he is seventy-two. I put to rest any idea that he may jump around on stage and work himself up into a Basil Fawlty rage. If audiences are anticipating a dramatic high-energy performance they will be disappointed. Cleese is seated for the first half of the show and then the second half of the show Cleese continues his narrative on foot without Stubbs. The show is still very funny, filled with wonderful reflections and observations of the comedy world that we have come to idolise. Cleese describes his fascination with and love of Black Comedy and what he has learned about making people laugh.

Anyone who has appreciated Cleese in anyone of his many reincarnations will appreciate and enjoy this show. Cleese is sharp, his timing and expression are still spot on and I would recommend taking the opportunity to see this wonderful insight into the world of comedy.

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