Monty Python’s Life of John

John Cleese
John Cleese

“I say Fawlty! What is it with these women - you wear your heart on your sleeve, give ‘em your worldly possessions and when it all goes pear-shaped, they fleece you for millions!”

Not that the major propping up the hotel desk in Fawlty Towers ever said that - but it pretty much sums up the opening tone of John Cleese’s first solo show.

Marketed as the Alimony Tour on account of his costly divorce from third wife Alcye Faye Eichelberger, the show has been rebranded as the quintessentially English and more genteel An Evening with the legendary John Cleese.

Anyone who’s been through a messy divorce will empathise with John’s frustration that at the age of 71 he’s been forced to work beyond retirement age to cover a $20m settlement which he describes as “feeding the beast”.

But while John loses out on retirement time, it’s his fans that are the winners as he satisfies their hunger for all things Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.

This great raconteur delivers his life story with humour, warmth and fondness for those he has loved and lost and doesn’t mince his words when it comes to those who have crossed swords with him.

Fascinating facts trip off his tongue, like his dad changing the family name from Cheese to Cleese, that Tommy Steele gave him his brief break into Broadway musicals and that he regards Peter Sellers as the greatest comedy actor.

His words or wit and wisdom are intercut with archive film footage of his favourite scenes from The 1948 Show, The Frost Report, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Life of Brian and A Fish Called Wanda.

There is nothing shy or retiring about this legendary comedian whose enduring ability to transfix and entertain his audience offers a masterclass to today’s young pretenders.

* An Evening with John Cleese is running at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sunday, May 15.

GAY BOLTON