John Cleese: The Alimony Tour, Corn Exchange, Cambridge
This comic is no more. He is an ex-comic
Sunday 08 May 2011
Perhaps you have to be a national treasure to get away with announcing that you're on tour purely to pay for your expensive divorce. John Cleese, of course, lampoons the idea that he is such a treasure, and he'll spend much of the evening pointing out the taboo-busting nature of his comedy.
But what was edgy in the Seventies is now thought of fondly – few series have the enduring quoteability of Monty Python's Flying Circus or Fawlty Towers. And that's why people have shelled out £30 apiece to see the gangly star in the flesh, even if, at 71, there are no silly walks.
He opens with a spiky 15 minutes, railing against his third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, who claimed $20m in their divorce. Cleese points out that's $3,650 (£2,230) for every day of their marriage. "Feeding the beast", he terms it. Whether the audience get its money's worth is another matter, because after this spleen-vent we get into safe, comfy territory, as he pedals through his early life and career.
The insights are hardly revelatory: class-clown survival tactics, a dysfunctional relationship with his mother, a boring, repressed English seaside town. The career is similarly swept through, from Cambridge Footlights to breakout appearances on The Frost Report to Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda. It's enlivened less by his presence than by the "best of" clips. By the second half, this feels like a lecture in comedy writing – do we need to know about Basil Fawlty's character motivation or the length of the scripts?
It's amiable and enjoyable, but he coasts through past triumphs rather than trying new material. While no one is going to complain about watching the fish-slapping dance again, you're probably better off buying box sets and watching the extras. There is a certain glee in hearing Cleese trot out sketches live, as when he recreates a skit about cooking and eating your mother and then vomiting her into a grave (a line he calls the "naughtiest" ever on television). But in the end this is little more than dead parroting.
Birmingham Hippodrome, Mon to Wed (0844 338 5000); Royal Centre, Nottingham (0115 989 5555) Thu to Sat; and touring
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