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John Cleese Alimony Tour/Liverpool Empire

Great one for the fans, says Vicky Anderson, but a shame Mr Funny is so in it for the money

Written by . Published on June 1st 2011.

John Cleese Alimony Tour/Liverpool Empire

IN many ways, just being in the company of John Cleese is enough.

Few people have earned their stripes in the world of comedy as Basil Fawlty himself, and the man’s got showbiz anecdotes coming out of his ears.

But on stage there was a feeling of reluctance from our host for the evening, which was almost always bubbling away, and, on occasion, threatened the sense of occasion.

Because a special occasion is just what it was, and even better, it was truly one for the fans.

We were essentially back where we came in – reminded that there was really only one reason
he was there, and it wasn’t really us

That we were in the Empire watching John Cleese’s first UK solo tour is exciting.  Yet calling it the Alimony Tour and admitting beforehand "I will be spending two months a year doing work that is of no interest to me and which is probably spiritually depleting in order to feed the beast" isn’t quite so charming.

Comedy legend or embittered old sod doing it all for the cash – what or who was the paying audience going to get?

4504182_f520.jpgPutting those dreadful Yellow Pages ads out of our minds (“faulty showers?”), it all depends where your sympathies lie – the bitterness was never far from the surface of this show, and made it an uncomfortable watch at times.

Then again, Cleese has, quite publicly, been forced to hand over $20m in a clearly very messy divorce to an ex-wife he doesn’t even have children with. I wouldn’t fancy being that nice about it either.

He begins with a rant to this effect, setting out his stall. Of course, many would have thought this shtick rather tongue-in-cheek and Fawlty-esque, but it certainly wasn’t gracious, and after all, he was among a crowd of normal people for whom the very concept of $20m is completely alien. It was a relief when he knocked that on the head, and began a whirlwind tour of his life and career.

When Cleese ditched the cynicism and got lost in tales of his craft, then good things happened, and the show was really a pleasure. A big screen showed his hand-picked “best bits” as he talked through them, a simple but effective device that left the comic’s legacy to do the talking. And who wouldn’t reserve the right to be a bit pleased with themselves when they can play a crowd The Two Ronnies’ class sketch, the Python’s Fish Slapping Dance or the Holy Grail’s Black Knight scene, take in the laughter, adoration and applause and think “that’s me, that is”?

There’s probably little new information contained in this show for the die-hard Cleese fan, it was more a cruise ship lecture than a night at the theatre - but to hear the story of his life straight from the horse’s mouth was, to use the cliché, a rare privilege.

Marty Feldman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, David Frost, Peter Sellers, Cleese worked with them all – and that was even before we get to the stuff that really made his name.

python.jpgSaying that, he didn’t really dwell on the Python years. Michael Palin got a look-in by virtue of his turn in A Fish Called Wanda more than anything else, and Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones barely featured. Of all of them, it was clear Graham Chapman had clearly been Cleese’s closest friend and inspiration, so whenever he featured was particularly interesting.

Playing footage of his 1989 memorial service was a genuine and touching moment. Alongside the numerous mentions of Chapman, Cleese’s late mother was also a recurring character spoken about with great affection and humour. That was the sort of thing we came to see.

Cleese took us through the Fawlty Towers years – which were received with the most enthusiasm – and ended after playing us some of the best bits of A Fish Called Wanda, when he suddenly seemed keen to get off the stage and wrapped things up disappointingly quickly.

With that, and little more than a modest returning bow for the encore, we were essentially back where we came in – reminded that there was really only one reason he was there, and it wasn’t really us. It was still light when we got outside.

Which was a real shame as this show – simple, yet effective, was full of enough wit, warmth, and behind-the-scenes secrets to keep any comedy geek more than satisfied.

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Peter Coyle

i wish i had been there…it sounds like something joyous and anarchic...the way the article is…

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