Fawlty Towers The Play

John Cleese
Apollo Theatre

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Basil Fawlty with German Guests Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Polly with Mrs Richards Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Basil with Manuel and guests Mr Walt and Mr Hutchinson Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Basil with Polly and The Major Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Basil with Sybil Credit: Hugo Glendinning

When Manuel says “Qué?” In this London’s West End production of Fawlty Towers, it doesn't have quite the same resonance as in the TV series and the comic timing was occasionally a little off, but the audience was nonetheless in raptures.

They remembered him fondly, especially in scenes such as when Manuel tries to cover up for his boss, Basil Fawlty, when Basil wins at the races, after which Manuel is repeatedly instructed by Fawlty to say, “I know nothing,” to Basil’s wife Sybil about his endeavours. And so it goes on, these well known and loved scenes from the ultimate British classic sitcom written by John Cleese and Connie Booth that’s now been adapted for stage by John Cleese himself.

The star-studded audience was in raptures as the characters of Basil Fawlty, played by Adam Jackson-Smith, and Sybil Fawlty, played by Anna-Jane Casey, impressively mimicked their 1970s TV personas. Their mannerisms, quirks and gestures and even the odd borrowed gait from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks all converge to bring to life what were ultimately unique and wholesome characters that made up Fawlty Towers.

Victoria Fox’s accent occasionally reverts to American in her otherwise excellent portrayal of Polly Sherman, the long suffering waitress and hotel maid. And guests such as Wilhelm, played by Steven Meo, Miss Gatsby, played by Nicola Sanderson, and Gunter, played by Greg Haiste, are equally enjoyable, although The Major, played by Paul Nicholas, is arguably more barking mad in the TV series.

For Fawlty Towers aficionados, which would appear to be the play’s intended audience, it is a real treat to revisit the good old days under the direction of Caroline Jay Ranger. The set, designed by Liz Ashcroft, maps well from the screen version and is skilfully worked into a contained theatre space without the need for any set changes. As with the TV series, there is the reception and dining rooms (which, unlike on screen, is not separated by a wall) and a flight of stairs that lead to one of the guest rooms. The costumes, also under Ashcroft’s direction, are equally fitting from the time.

And there are the recognisable lines, such as when a guest asks, “anywhere they do French food?” to which the caustic Basil Fawlty replies, “yes, France I believe. They seem to like it there, and the swim would certainly sharpen your appetite.” And another where Basil says to his wife: “Sybil, do you remember, when we were first manacled together, we used to laugh quite a lot?” to which Sybil replies, “yes, but not at the same time Basil.” The fact that these lines met with such immediate laughter goes to show how a sitcom that only aired twelve episodes within two series in 1975 and 1979 remains so loved more than four decades later, arguably having influenced many other later comedies.

What fans who require more than a trip down memory lane may be disappointed by is that Fawlty Towers The Play was an exact replica rather than any reinvention beyond the original TV series. While this two-act play works as a narrative arch, the drama is essentially an amalgamation of snippets from three famous episodes.

There are scenes portraying the arrival of Mrs Richards (played by Rachel Izen), whose low battery hearing aid persistently causes communication problems, and another where the threat of hotel inspectors visiting Fawlty Towers has Basil hopping around nervously, which come from two episodes in 1975 and 1979. And it wouldn’t have been Fawlty Towers if not for the classic scene from 1975 featuring the German guests, regarding whose arrival everyone else at Fawlty Towers is firmly instructed: “Don’t Mention the War!”, words which of course the erratic Basil himself ends up blurting out in his state of never ending panic.

Despite the absence of new material, it all flows on seamlessly, and the audience, who were perhaps reminiscing their own youth, couldn’t get enough of it.

Reviewer: Shiroma Silva

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