Out of Order, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, March 20 to 25, 7.45pm (2.30pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday)

ARTHUR BOSTROM is best known for his role as Officer Crabtree in ’Allo ’Allo, the much-loved sitcom set in a cafe in occupied France during World War Two. The former Brighton resident, 62, appears in Out of Order, the farce written by Ray Cooney in 1990. Set in Westminster, the plot sees a junior minister’s plans to spend an evening with a member of the opposition’s typists go drastically awry.

Beginning with the discovery of a body trapped in the hotel’s only unreliable sash window, things quickly go from bad to worse. Bostrom, who plays the manager of the hotel in which events unfold, spoke to EDWIN GILSON about the play and the enduring appeal of ’Allo ’Allo.

You’ve performed in Shakespearian productions before. What drew you to this modern farce?

It’s like no other experience of stage because it’s very mechanical, in a way. It’s very tight in the way it is scripted. The playwright Ray Cooney is a master of farce. He’s 84 now and the man has no intention of stopping. I also just love making people laugh. The news is pretty grim, so everyone really needs to get together and laugh. It’s a really good medicine for people.

Ray said the “basic premise of a philandering politician is as likely today as it was when the play was originally written”. Are there satirical elements or is it just farce?

There are hints of satire. It’s been updated with modern references like Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. One character accuses another of lying to him, and he responds: “Ronnie, I’m a member of parliament.” That gets a huge laugh from the audience. It’s holding a mirror up to what we think about politics. For a line like that to get such a laugh says everything about where we are.

The play is set in a hotel in Westminster. There is an all-night debate going on in the House of Commons. One of the characters is a junior minister and referred to as a bit of a lapdog. Those expressions still exist. How many sex scandals have there been in parliament in recent years? The plot of our play is hardly far-fetched. Politicians aren’t trusted, and I don’t think that’s changed since the play was written.

You play the hotel manager who oversees the chaos. Does your character slowly become embroiled in the action?

Farces always have someone who misunderstands things and gets the wrong end of the stick. My character is like that. All of the characters have something to use, and my characters gets more and more embroiled in the plot and outraged about it. It’s sort of a stock character – the one who goes “what on earth are you doing?” It takes a lot of energy. A lot of the time it’s the picture that’s funny, as opposed to anything anyone is actually saying.

Are there elements of physical theatre, then?

Yes, I think so. Choreography is very important. Ray is like a conductor bringing it all together. It’s a very precise thing, and you don’t get a laugh if you’re slightly off with the timing.

Is there something of Basil Fawlty in your role?

There are elements of that. When I say I play a stock character, it’s not a criticism. Shakespeare had bumbling fools, a lot of them. I’ve done Twelfth Night a few times, which has farcical elements in it and mistaken identities. I was up for Comedy of Errors once, but being six foot four it was difficult to be twinned with anybody as you have to be in that play.

Does Out of Order share things in common with ’Allo ’Allo, in the farcical, topsy-turvy plotlines of both?

Yes actually, I think it does. For many years we did a play version of the series which travelled around a lot. That play was a farce. The French element adds to it, because the French were masters of the farce. I don’t know where that comes from and it’s something I’d like to look into.

You said in another interview you don’t get recognised as much anymore from your ’Allo ’Allo days.

I think that’s mainly because I’m older. I’ve got grey hair and a beard now, and the programme isn’t on the box all the time. Every week people come up and say something, though, and it’s fine. It’s all good. People have shared memories. It’s one of those programmes that people watched as a family when they were kids, and they have happy memories of that. I think that’s nice.

Were you surprised at the initial success of the show and how it wove its way into the public consciousness?

Yes and no. When I joined in the second season I could see it was an immediate hit. It really was very funny and still is. It’s kind of like Dad’s Army – it exists in a time capsule and hasn’t dated much. It’s in an unusual setting so it doesn’t date in that way. People say they have the boxsets of it and if they fancy a laugh they put it on even if they’ve seen it loads of times before.

Do you still keep in touch with cast members?

Yes, although some of the cast were in there 60s and 70s back when we were making it, so they’ve long gone. I was one of the young ones! Now I’m an old one. I will be seeing a few of them next weekend. It was a huge part of our lives for a long time and we became close.

How do you reflect upon your time in Brighton?

I lived in Brighton for eight years, in Norfolk Square, and I had a very nice time there. The Argus did a feature on me, actually, in the late 90s. Last time I was at the Theatre Royal was three and a half years ago in a play version of the [Sebastian Faulks] novel Birdsong. This will be my third time, and it will be great to be back. I’ve got quite a few friends there and it will be great to catch up.