British tv show Fawlty Towers (1975—1979) revolved around ill-tempered hotelier Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), and his run-ins with stern wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) and incompetent Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs). This has inspired The Faulty Towers Dining Experience, a show which offers scenes from the series, some interaction with punters, and a three-course meal (drinks are extra).
Following its 1997 Brisbane premiere, the show has toured 40 countries and become a regular fixture on the Australian festival circuit. I saw the show some years ago in a large Greek restaurant, and that made some difference to the experience. As far as I recall, the set pieces of novel (non-series) content (written and directed by Alison Pollard-Mansergh) are the same as previously.
The show’s promotional material noted that it “… will be performed in a new, COVID Safe format …”. That didn’t happen. If you have concerns about spending a few hours shoulder-to-shoulder with others indoors, this might not be the show for you right now.
It was unfortunate to see people down on their hands and knees trying to get under trestle tables to their seats. It was also difficult for Basil (a tall, but broad and quite young, Jack Newell), Sybil (Rebeca Fortuna, a good likeness indeed) and Manuel (a suitably exuberant Anthony Sottile) to circulate.
The z-shaped room with pillars could have caused some seats to be better than others. However, the production found well-motivated ways of compensating for this at times.
Those familiar with the tv show will recall that Basil’s restaurant didn’t run smoothly. There’s a risk that “The Duke” could take this aspect too far. Table settings and service were haphazard, possibly caused by befuddled staff having to negotiate the cast’s patchy efforts to serve food.
Given how long we waited for our mains, it’s probably best to not arrive too hungry. As for the food itself, there’s a set menu but the venue can accommodate dietary requirements if advised in advance. Some diners are likely to appreciate having salt and pepper on the table, and maybe a side salad for some freshness.
Audiences will witness some of the series’ most well-known scenes from episodes such as The Germans, Basil the Rat, and Communication Problems, executed with suitable vigour. The costuming, hair, and make-up certainly make us feel that we’ve walked in to a tv episode. Sottile did especially well in maintaining his accent. Also, enthusiastic performances in the planned scenes effectively rose above the dining clatter and chatter.
The unexpected spelling indicates that this is a “tribute” show, and the players achieve this quite well. Fans will find Faulty Towers The Dining Experience their best opportunity for immersion in the mayhem and madness of Fawlty Towers. The consistent laughter of the house showed that many were well pleased with the evening.
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience
The Duke of Wellington Hotel, 146 Flinders St, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 10 April 2021 – 7:30pm
Season continues to 18 April 2021
Information and Bookings: www.comedyfestival.com.au
Image: Faulty Towers The Dining Experience – courtesy of Interactive Theatre International
Review: Jason Whyte