John Cleese is no stranger to Australia, he’s been to Melbourne many times, however the chance to see him in live performance is relatively rare. Given the chance to see one of his shows in Melbourne, we went along to the Princess Theatre with high expectations.
The show, which is playing this week in Melbourne, is described by Cleese as “an evening of well honed anecdotes, psychoanalytical tit-bits, and unprovoked attacks on former colleagues, especially Michael Palin.”. The show is in fact made up of two parts divided by an intermission, which Cleese describes as necessary as he’s “a bit old and needs to have a lie down”.
The series of An Evening with John Cleese has a practical purpose. John Cleese needs to raise money to pay his alimony and he is very upfront with the audience about the motivations behind putting on these shows. Shown in other parts of the world as the Alimony Tour, John Cleese appears in Melbourne in a slightly different format.
The first half of the show consists of a interview format exchange between John Cleese and one of three local ABC radio presenters Jon Faine, Rafael Epstein and Richard Stubs. During the exchange Cleese traces his early life beginning with a short history of his parents and home town through to the formation of Monty Python. For avid Cleese/Python/Fawlty fans this will be an enjoyable peer back through the looking glass from Cleese’ own personal perspective.
The second half of the show is a stand up monologue where Cleese shares a few of his pivotal production moments through to the Python years. The monologue is interspersed with videos and images from various Cleese performances. Unfortunately the second half of the show was flat, robotic, lacking originality in individual night performance and left some of the audience wondering where the John Cleese from the first half of the show was hiding.
(I’ll let you into a little secret about why the second of half of the show seemed a little flat and robotic. The whole of the second half was served up to Cleese via three teleprompters facing the stage from the front of the Dress Circle. Watching both the teleprompters and Cleese it was obvious that the performance was just read to the audience.)
The Princess Theatre is a fitting venue for John Cleese to be performing in during this tour. Both the venue and Cleese are getting older, in need of a little maintenance, a little neglected and not quite what they once were.
If you’re a fan of John Cleese then any shortcomings in the show will likely be easily overlooked. The chances to see John Cleese live are rare and there will come a time where he is unable to keep up a schedule of performances as well as he does now. Despite being 72 Cleese is sprightly and still brimming with middle class self loathing which fans will enjoy.
If you’re only casually acquainted with the work of John Cleese then don’t go, most of the stories will be lost on you and your evening might be better spent elsewhere.
“An Evening with John Cleese” playing at the Princess Theatre between Monday 12 – Tuesday 27 March (update: two new shows added 28th and 29th March). Tickets are $115 from TicketMaster 1300 111 011