Absolutely marvellous entertainment. A hoot. Heaps of fun. That’s what is in store when you venture upstairs at The Duke of Wellington Hotel in Melbourne to see Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience. For anyone fortunate enough to have seen the 12-episode Fawlty Towers, written by John Cleese and Connie Booth (judged the all-time greatest British television program by the British Film Institute) in the mid and late 1970s, it is a must.
The hilarity, slapstick and hijinks associated with the original TV series, which is skilfully transposed into the live show and dining experience, undoubtedly crosses age groups. The night I attended, there was a table of youngsters celebrating a 15th birthday. They certainly didn’t grow up with first-hand knowledge of the television show, but told me the theatrical event was hilariously funny in its own right … and that it most definitely is. Mind you, if you are familiar with the sketch comedy, I dare say the experience will be all the richer.
The highly talented cast – Jack Newell as Basil, Rebecca Fortuna as Sybil and Anthony Sottile as Manuel – captures the language, accents and affectations of Basil, Sybil and Manuel perfectly. It starts when you are individually greeted at the front desk by Sybil and Basil bickering and doesn’t let up for the ensuing two hours, during which you are fed an appetising three course meal. The trio is an ever-present source of mirth and merriment as they interact with the audience and play out many of the favourite scenes from the TV series with aplomb (the show is partly scripted, although a significant portion is improvised).
They include Basil asking Manuel to bet on a horse race, Manuel’s pet rat fiasco and Basil goose stepping out of exasperation. As guests enter the room, Manuel tells them they can sit where they like. He doesn’t care. Of course, we have already been preassigned seats. Manuel literally throws around nuts and bread rolls with reckless abandon as the laughs come thick and fast. He confuses orders with Hors D’oeuvres (as Basil apologises, acknowledging he’s from Barcelona). And then, not surprisingly, Manuel utters the endearing “Que” and “Si” with a decidedly confused expression on his face.
Early on, Sybil tells us that she will leave us “in the capable hands of my husband”, followed by snorts of laughter. We “buy” it immediately and enjoy every morsel of that line and all the other humdingers that are delivered. We are asked to “stir” our soup for the chef has lost something. Manuel subsequently proves he is hardly adept at collecting the bowls … and he actually decides to wait on a table.
Audience involvement serves to heighten the enjoyment. Manuel makes a bull out of one hapless “victim”. Basil picks on a fictitious German patron. Sybil acknowledges birthdays in the room. Lines such as “You Finish” with the retort “No, I’m Spanish” and “You Continental Cretin” are dropped liberally.
The cast is dressed, as you might expect, and a delight it is to see too. Sybil has on an elegant pink twin set with flouncy pink blouse, maroon heels, impeccable makeup and high quaffed blonde locks. A moustachioed Basil with slick back black hair, large eyes and a gruff demeanour is attired in plaid jacket and suitably plain slacks with a white shirt, tie offsetting his jacket, and light brown shoes. Manuel – also mo intact – sticks with a white shirt and black bow tie, a white waiter’s short jacket and black trousers, braces and shoes.
Everything about the night is spot on. It is a gem of a celebratory experience because each member of the cast is so good at what they do. They may have performed their roles hundreds of times, but clearly they are energised by the love in the room. Let’s be honest, we can’t get enough of Basil, Sybil and Manuel. Do yourself a favour and buy your tickets now, for I assure you, you don’t want to miss a brilliant evening.
It explains why this is the world’s longest running (it started in Brisbane in 1997) and most successful Fawlty Towers tribute, with different casts touring the world pre COVID-19. Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience is on at The Duke of Wellington Hotel until 18th April, 2021. The show is constantly touring, so check out further dates for the year throughout Australia by clicking on www.torquaysuitetheatre.com
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show (Regent Theatre) – theatre review
- Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death (Malthouse) – theatre review
- The Pitts (Athenaeum Theatre) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.