Comedic legend John Cleese brings to the stage the classic 70s television comedy Fawlty Towers in an adaption written by himself and Connie Booth. Despite only 12 episodes of the show ever being produced, the antics of the narcissistic and abusive hotel manager Basil Fawlty and his dysfunctional hotel is regarded as one of the most iconic, albeit politically incorrect, UK comedies ever produced.
In an era of re-makes (many with questionable integrity), it is easy to be hesitant about how well Fawlty Towers can be translated to the stage some 40 years later. Many of the original jokes were clearly sexist and racist, and Cleese himself admitted to the reason for bringing the show to Australia first because he felt that such a remake would simply not do well in England.
Although Fawlty Towers Live utilised original stories and jokes, the dynamics between the characters have shifted slightly from the original show for the better. Stephen Hall, under the direction of Caroline Ranger brings his own unique spin to Basil Fawlty, keeping the outrageous nature of this character alive while toning down (ever so slightly) on how he delivered his abusive rants.
His infamously insulting relationship toward the Spaniard Manuel (Syd Brisbane) is now seen more of a comradery plagued by a constant language barrier, and the chemistry between Hall and Blazey Best who plays his wife Sybil, playfully jokes with the love-hate stereotype of long term marriage with an overarching realisation of how much Basil relies upon Sybil to run his hotel.
As if directly ported from the original television show, Aimee Horne was a perfect choice for Connie Booth’s character Polly Shearman, whose impeccable timing helped marry the chaotic storylines together into a hilarious romp. Hall, Best, Brisbane and Horne were accompanied by a talented ensemble, with particular mention to the delightful Deborah Kennedy as the hotel guest Mrs Richards.
The set itself was static throughout the show with only a single stage design featuring a cross-section of the hotel’s reception, dining room and guest room. This simple yet stylish and familiar look gave a studio audience feel thanks to Liz Ascroft (Set and Costume Design) with the lighting adding to the impression of a live recording (Ian Scott, Lighting Designer).
The storyline for Fawlty Towers Live was essentially an amalgamation of the episodes The Hotel Inspectors, The Germans, and Communication Problems. The merging of all stories into the massive punchline at the end was a bit rushed, and could have utilised more pace needed for a theatrical production compared to a television show.
Though this being said, I highly doubt that there would be many audience members seeing this show who had not already seen the television series, thereby already knowing the ending of each episode – the pre-emptive laughter throughout the performance was testament to that.
While many of the jokes are inappropriate by today’s standards, they were executed with flair, consistent in a Cleese comedy. Has the dated, yet witty banter lost edge or perhaps set in the past, we can laugh at how things used to be – as long as we “don’t mention the war”.
Fawlty Towers Live
Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 22 September 2016 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 23 October 2016 (then plays Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane)
Information and Bookings: www.fawltytowerslive.com.au
Image: Cast of Fawlty Towers Live – photo by James Morgan
Review: Jimmy Twin