There is a bellyful of laughs to be had as you experience dining at the iconic Fawlty Towers.
IF Fawlty Towers was a real establishment, you’d be barking mad to voluntarily stay or dine there – unless, of course, you actually enjoy being served (and I use the term very loosely) by a misanthropic hotel owner, his shrill wife and their eager but highly incompetent waiter. For any fan of the 1970s BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, however, the chance to not only revisit the show, but also be in the thick of the action with Basil, Sybil and Manuel, is too good to pass up.
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience by Interactive Theatre International offers just that – the opportunity to become a part of the shenanigans by dining in the “Fawlty Towers” restaurant, where you are served a three-course meal by the trio in typical Fawlty style, with a healthy helping of mayhem! And while John Cleese, Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs may not be on hand to play the roles they made iconic, the cast of this show are so spot-on with their impersonations that it immediately feels like you are in the characters’ presence.
Brought in by PJ Live Arts as part of the PJ Laugh Fest, Faulty Towers is a site-specific, fully-immersive and interactive theatre experience, started in Australia in 1997 by Alison Pollard-Mansergh. It has since become an international success that tours the world over, while maintaining a residency in London’s West End.
“I love Fawlty Towers, I have a passion for site-specific, interactive comedy, and I know a lot about the hospitality business from owning a restaurant. So the concept of a Fawlty Towers homage jumped out at me,” says Pollard-Mansergh, the production’s artistic director (she also plays Sybil in some productions).
Unlike a traditional theatre production, however, Faulty Towers comes with its own unique challenges, as the actors are literally performing amidst patrons in a restaurant, and even serving food.
“We perform in the round, so actors must be aware of all the physical angles, as well as sound and sight lines,” explains Pollard-Mansergh. “They also need enough physical space to perform the scripted pieces, and the right ‘stage wings’ to get in and out of the kitchen to serve food. And while doing all this, there’s the challenge of convincing the audiences that they’re in the original TV series!”
Additionally, only one third of the show is actually scripted, as the rest depends on the venue and the audience.
“The actors rehearse intensively with each other for the scripted parts, and we work hard to ensure they know the original TV show backwards! They impersonate the original characters, as played by Cleese, Scales and Sachs, so very well that they can react to any situation as if they were the original characters themselves. Then, for every venue, they work out how the show can be formatted in the space they’ve been given, and also give a quick training session to the venue staff.
“For the two-thirds of the show that is improvised, the actors draw on their deep knowledge of the sitcom to inform their performances. They must always be ready; audiences delight in becoming guests in the hotel, and love to spring surprises. This means that the entire performance develops naturally, and usually ends up feeling just as anarchic as the original!” says Pollard-Mansergh.
The Fawlty Towers experience begins even before you’re seated. Staged here at the Frontera Sol Of Mexico restaurant in Jaya One, guests are greeted by an officious Basil (played by Jordan Edmeades) armed with a guestlist, looking down his nose at those whom he thinks are not up to his standards. After much confusion – thanks to Basil misreading the list and Manuel misunderstanding instructions – we are seated in the restaurant and made party to the most mishap-filled meal of our lives. From Manuel crawling under tables to Basil goose-stepping across the restaurant yelling “Heil, mein Fuhrer!” to Sybil whacking Basil on the head with a tray, it is one riotous joke after another.
Where the show lacks a little is in its plot. While the original TV episodes each naturally had a central plot, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is more a series of gags, albeit side-slittingly funny ones. With no central narrative holding the show together, it sometimes feels insubstantial. The cast, however, almost makes up for this with its brilliant performance.
Edmeades, with his imposing height and put-upon expressions, is a dead ringer for a young Cleese, and his exchanges with Manuel (Geoffrey Reczek) are a pure delight. Karen Hamilton, meanwhile, gets Sybil’s simpering smile and bossy manner down pat, including that classic, high-pitched “Baaasil!” that stops him in his tracks. And as the hapless Manuel, Reczek brings the perfect combination of physical comedy and hilarious word-play. Particularly impressive are their improvisational skills, with each of them making conversation or reacting to the audience perfectly in character.
Thanks to them, Fawlty Towers fans are able to bask in the nostalgic pleasure of dining with these delightful – though not always likeable – characters. Just don’t mention the war!
> Faulty Towers The Dining Experience will be playing at PJ Live Arts (PJLA), Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, till June 1. Dinner performances begin at 8pm daily (no shows on Tuesdays) while matinee performances (only Saturdays and Sundays) begin at 1pm. Tickets are priced at RM165 and RM185, with discounts available for groups of six. For tickets, call 03-7960 0439 or 017-228 9849, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.tix.my. For more information, go to www.pjlivearts.my.