Ricky Gervais on world’s first stage version of cult TV series The Office

Ricky Gervais, photo: Thomas Atilla Lewis, CC 2.0 license

The BBC comedy series The Office has been sold to more than 80 countries around the world, and local versions have been made in the United States, France, Germany, Chile, Israel and Sweden. But there’s never been a stage version – until now that is. Last weekend Prague’s Municipal Theatre saw the première of Kancl, the world’s first ever stage adaptation of the cult series. Rob Cameron spoke to Office star and co-creator Ricky Gervais, and asked him for his reaction.

'Kancl' in Prague’s Municipal Theatre,  photo: Ondřej Pýcha
“Well I’m always flattered. Whether it’s good, bad, indifferent, an homage, plagiarised, stolen, credited, or not - I’m flattered that anyone watches The Office again on DVD. Not even that they buy it – that’s nice, and it’s made me more money than I could ever have imagined – but I’m flattered that anybody wants to watch my work. And that’s the truth. I don’t say that often, because I don’t think people would believe me. As for it being global, the themes are absolutely universal. It looked parochial and seemed very British but it wasn’t, because all the themes were about being human. Boy meets girl. A decent job of work. A bad boss. Wanting to be liked. Wasting your life. These things – it doesn’t matter what race, class, nationality, height, weight, sex – it doesn’t matter. They’re what everyone cares about. And I think that was the accidental secret.”

I remember on one of The Office DVDs there’s the making of and you and Stephen are talking about the ‘comedy of embarrassment’, you know those long, lingering camera shots after a punch line falls flat in a joke, or Gareth says something ridiculous. Do you think that can work on stage, as opposed to being on film?

“It can really work on stage.”

Ricky Gervais,  photo: Thomas Atilla Lewis,  CC 2.0 license
You think it could.

“It can, and I’ll tell you why it can. For those embarrassing things to work, you needed a few ingredients. They had to be acted well. They had to look real. You then had to remind yourself it was a documentary, and I did that by often Brent looking at the camera, so you felt his pain more. But you didn’t just feel his pain; suddenly, you empathised with him, because he’s looking at you, and you can’t help him. So suddenly you’re taken straight there. You’re going – Oh my God, I know what that feels like. And so as an audience member, when someone on stage looks out at you, you can feel their pain actually, because they’ve broken the fourth wall.”

Can I ask you – I’m just curious – about these foreign adaptations, the French and the German and so on. I’m curious how much artistic control you and Stephen Merchant have over them. Do you have a say in who’s going to play the Swedish Brent or the German Big Keith?

“No, the only one we had input to was the American Office. The others we just give our blessing to.”

And have you seen all of them?

'Kancl' in Prague’s Municipal Theatre,  photo: Ondřej Pýcha
“Yes! I watched ‘em. The French one, they did it shot for shot initially and then we said – no, go your own way. And I like the things they change. In the French version they put a stapler in some cheese.”

Instead of jelly.

“It’s little things like that. So everything changes a little bit. It does need to be different. With all those core things that I first mentioned being intact, the details change. And so they should. So they should.”