Pros: A sentimental celebration of all things ‘Fawlty’, crammed full of laughs and charming details. Perfect for true fans.
Cons: Fans should be prepared to give in to the spirit of the night as a new way to experience the show they love, rather than expecting the perfection of the original series.
As a Fawlty Towers fan, I had mixed feelings going into the Faulty Towers Dining Experience, so heavily attacked by John Cleese himself in 2016. Creator Alison Pollard-Mansergh defended her popular interactive experience against allegations of copyright, and from watching the performance I can only comment that to me, it most certainly seemed to me to be a celebratory ode, from a true fan.
Whilst the beautiful Kingsway Hall Hotel is a far cry from Fawlty Towers, it is a great choice of venue, serving both Basil’s elitist ideals and our own enjoyment. For most guests I spoke to, this experience was a long awaited treat for fans, many of which had travelled a considerable distance to attend. The stunning evening setting added to the shared buzz around the audience; that this was to be something special.
However, I would say that the experience is best suited for fans of the series. Whilst the night may well provide entertainment for anyone with a penchant for comedy or those looking for a different type of theatrical experience – the real enjoyment lies in the series throwbacks. Even when the action lacked the element of surprise – this audience did not necessarily want to be surprised: roaring loudly when familiar plots arose, or joining in and whooping for classic lines when they appeared.
The same can be said for the acting. Performances were at their best when played as a complete impression rather than influence. Richard Emerson’s Manuel worked particularly well, with a portrayal matched to Andrew Sachs’ posture, mannerisms and quirks. You could see his mind desperately translating language with a real effort, to the extent that you could almost hear his thoughts even when he was silent – just as Sachs’ Manuel did. Moments such as this justify the purpose such nights can have in brining fans closer to the characters and stories they love.
Meredith Colchester’s physical comedy was just superb, providing a glorious replication of Cleese’s stagecraft – whether sinking into tables to hide from Sybil, or treating us to the classic high-limbed run. Katie Grace Cooper’s hosting as Sybil was crucial in setting the tone of the night and adding an authentic touch to the unique evening, which is what I was hoping for.
With regards to the flow of the evening, the company have absolutely nailed it. The audience is eased in rather gently, with actors expertly building them up as the night progresses. The structure of the action in relation to the audience’s meal is perfectly timed. The combination of several simple comic plots, as opposed to one main story, is a wonderful decision for the style, and provides gags galore. If you have ever wondered how many different laughs you possess, I recommend this show, which had me laughing the full range of belly laughs to titters.
The space was used very well, and the thought that had been put in to adapting the night for the venue was evident. However, the stage combat posed a bit of a problem. On stage, actors are positioned carefully as to create the perfect illusion of contact for slaps or being thrown against walls, etc., which all depends on precise positioning to manipulate the perception of the crowd. In this venue, with the action amongst the diners, there was nowhere to hide and these moments are stripped of their realism. I feel this could be given more attention, and with some slightly different direction and refinement, these moments could achieve so much more and provide the same comedic impact for every table.
Overall, I’m grateful that I got to have this experience, which may, surprisingly, increase my enjoyment of the original series even more. This is a remarkable feat, which any fan should allow themselves to experience. It truly is a night to remember.
Created by: Alison Pollard-Mansergh
Producer: Interactive Theatre International
Box Office: 0845 1544 145
Booking Link: http://www.torquaysuitetheatre.com/tickets_london.html
Booking until: 30 September 2017