Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience
The Principle Hotel, Edinburgh
Aug 11-27 (times vary)
I – like many- grew up with the original Fawlty Towers. In my case it was via my parents VHS cassettes of the show and I have fond memories of the madcap antics of Basil and so I approached this performance with some trepidation. It had been years since I’d watched it. Would the performers do the characters justice? How would they deal with the anachronisms particularly the problematic nature of Manuel and its potential accusations of xenophobia. And perhaps the most important question of all would I find it funny? I needn’t have worried as right from the beginning it was clear that we were in the hands of experts.
All 3 actors were superb capturing not just the vocalisations of the characters from Basil’s clipped delivery to Sybil’s ridiculous laugh but also their very physical essence. Here we have a Basil who is as obsequious and full of brittle contempt as John Cleese’s rendering, a Manuel as sweetly endearing in his buffoonery as Andrew Sachs and a Sybil as shrill and flirtatious as Prunella Scales original. From the immaculately highlighted beehive of Sybil, to Basil’s too tight checked jacket the attention to detail of the costumes is also excellent.
But what saves the show from being merely a slightly creepy if excellent act of re-animation is that it is fully alive to the possibilities of the moment. The show is 70% improvised and although favourite gags and skits from the show are expertly weaved into the performance most of it is ad libbed. So yes whilst we do get the pleasures of seeing Manuel’s ‘ Siberian hamster’ or Basil goose-stepping we also get jokes about Brexit and Trump. These cleverly bring the material up to date and address some of those concerns audience members might have about the accusations of xenophobia Manuel’s character might now present.
The way in which the actors bring the audience into the show makes it a fully immersive experience too as they bounce off comments made by a very game public. At one point I asked ‘Basil’ what kind of soup it was and he immediately shot back ‘red’ with clipped irritation. A personal moment of comic genius of which there were many. Due to the projective skills of the performers what was happening at one end of the large room was for the most part clear and audible to all. The space itself was used very well whether it was Manuel standing on the table to conduct us in a jaunty rendition of ‘Viva Espania’ or the Sybil chasing Basil around the room with a fish. The humour combined the antic physical comedy of the original show whilst not losing sight of its famed wit. Some of the fun the performers had with language was comic gold whether it was a ridiculous gag about some dentures lost in the soup being ‘an aperitif’ to the constant misunderstandings of Manuel they were sublimely silly.
And so to the final and most important of my questions ‘was it funny?’ It was a veritable cavalcade of hilarity from start to finish. One barely dared speak to a neighbour in case one missed a gag as they came so thick and fast. The audience were clearly up for the fun too and added much to the show creating a great sense of camaraderie between audience and performers. What shone through most of all though was the respect and love clearly felt for the original Fawlty Towers material itself by all involved. This was a loving homage to the work of Cleese and Booth which captured and breathed life into its spirit.