Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
09 March 2020 (released)
10 March 2020
As we took our seats in the traditional Edwardian auditorium, I was struck by how the stage set, replicating an elegant early nineteenth century Parisian drawing room, echoed the décor of the Theatre Royal Windsor itself. I became acutely aware of being part of a continuing history. I thought of the decades that have passed in this theatre and the many thousands of people who have sat back into those same red upholstered seats before us. I hope that the experience of being entertained by a live performance like this, is one that will go on to be enjoyed by many more generations to come.
Talking of keeping theatrical history alive, John Cleese has based his new play “Bang Bang” on a lesser known French farce ‘Monsieur Chasse’ by Georges Feydeau. Originally written over 100 years ago, a comedy about the opposing forces of conforming to society’s moral codes whilst indulging illicit passions could feel outdated, especially when it’s peopled by the self-indulgent bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the combination of Cleese’s masterful comic script and the delightful delivery from a stellar cast injects a fresh vibrancy into this format.
Tony Gardner as the deceitful husband, Duchotel, never misses a beat as he veers between the many sides of his character. A laconic lawyer, a keen hunter, a lascivious lover and a wriggling liar, floundering to escape the trap he creates for himself. When she realises she is being cheated on, his long suffering wife Leontine (Tessa Peake-Jones) finds herself succumbing to the seduction of Duchotel's best friend, Doctor Moricet (Richard Earl), even though she’s tortured by her better judgement. The story is further complicated by Gontran (Daniel Burke), Duchotel’s student nephew, who visits his rich uncle to tap him for money to fund his own love life. Vicki Davids, as Babette - the maid, brings to mind pragmatic Polly from Fawlty Towers. She’s the only one who really knows what’s going on.
The action moves to a hotel where we meet the fabulous Wendi Peters playing concierge Madame Latour as she bemoans her lost glory as the former wife of a count. I especially enjoyed her highly entertaining song and dance sketch with brown coated removal men bringing to mind Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch.
Once the story is set loose, the play gathers pace in the second act as we see the characters desperately racing to avoid having their dark secrets discovered. The show packs in all the slapstick classics – being caught with pants off, wearing the wrong trousers, being shut in cupboards and mistaken identities. You’ll enjoy rapid fire verbal sparring and great comic timing. Fans of John Cleese will especially love picking out the many references to the panoply of funny moments he has gifted us with through his eighty years.