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Interview: Eric Idle on The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat

Posted on 7 February 2017

This February half-term the Belgrade Theatre will stage the first ever production of Eric Idle’s The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat, inspired by Edward Lear’s famous nonsense poem. In this interview, we speak to the writer and actor in the legendary Monty Python series, about bringing his children’s book to the stage.

What inspired you to turn Edward Lear’s poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ into a children’s book?
My daughter. I would always recite the poem to her and occasionally even play it as a song. I love Edward Lear and his Nonsense is very interesting.

How different is your book from the original poem?
Well it’s a novel, so I explored the story a bit, using Lear illustrations (in particular his botanical sketches) and thoughts from his other work. Originally I wanted to do it as an animated film, which is why the book has about ten songs written with John Du Prez. I wanted to use Lear’s fantastic painted landscapes and put his black and white cartoony characters in front of it. We pitched it to Steven Spielberg but he kept talking about Barbara Streisand…. No one in the US seems to know that poem.

The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat is very surreal, nonsensical and filled with anarchic characters, much like Monty Python. Which character was your favourite to write? What attracts you to this style of comedy?
The interesting question is why an Owl runs away with a Cat. Since they are natural enemies. I was very fond of the Pig. He did The Piggy Shuffle in our original.

How do you feel about The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat being adapted for the stage at the theatre where you first performed with Monty Python?
I love that coincidence. It’s a great venue. I had the idea of putting Python on stage and I produced the script, selecting the sketches, and we did it at midnight for three nights and they went nuts.

Your play Pass the Butler also opened in Coventry in 1982. What is your favourite memory of working in the city?
Well I’m a Warwickshire lad. Studley. And I loved doing Pass the Butler there. We had a great cast and it was warmly received.

What do you think audiences can expect from the very first stage adaptation of The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat?
Well hopefully they will be engaged, and kids will love it and Lear’s wonderful world will come to life!

Do you have any intentions of writing another play in the future and what would it be about?
I’ve been writing for TV recently. I just did The Entire Universe for BBC Boxing Day with John Du Prez (my Spamalot partner) and we are writing another which hopefully the BBC will do too, with Professor Brian Cox. We wanted that to be a musical originally, so we’ll see where that goes! I like the musical play form very much these days.

The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat runs from Sat 18 Feb to Sat 4 Mar. Tickets are available now by calling the Belgrade Box Office team on 024 7655 3055 or book online.

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