By Jeffrey Johns
Guys. Answer me these three questions: Do you remember the British TV show “Fawlty Towers”? You remember liking it? Do you wish you could watch some of its best moments re-enacted by some look-alikes, like some situation comedy Beatlemania?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then I think there’s a fair chance you will like Faulty Towers, the theatrical show. If not? Maybe…proceed with caution.
Faulty Towers is not your typical play. Or even typical dinner theatre I don’t think? I have not seen that much dinner theatre in my days. Some. But not too much. Instead, it is billed as a “Dining Experience”.
There is no stage. The venue plays the role of the dining room of the Fawlty’s family run hotel. The three cast members, Basil (Benedict Holme), his wife Sybil (Alison Pollard-Mansergh) and beleaguered Spanish waiter, Manuel (Leigh Kelly) move about the audience, serving and arguing and fighting and such (no Polly, though, just in case you were wondering).
Given that this was not just a performance but a “dining experience”, I am going to break down for you the different aspects of the experience.
The Venue: The show takes place in the “O’Keefe Lounge” at the Sony Centre. Without trying to sound like too much like a jerk, in my view, “lounge” is a bit of a misnomer. The “O’Keefe Utility Room”, perhaps. Or the “O’Keefe Storage Area”. But not lounge. Unless your idea of a lounge is a characterless, windowless room with low ceilings with clearly exposed insulation and ventilation piping, and linoleum floor.
The Meal: My advice: Don’t go to this thing hungry. Or maybe bring a granola bar, just in case. Dinner wasn’t served to us until about two hours after the show started. And, honestly, it wasn’t very good. Or at least, given the ticket price, I guess I expected that it would be better. Canned beans and mashed potatoes served with an ice cream scoop? It was kind of like it was catered by Ikea.
The Show: The show is three hours plus. The program points out that only about 30% of the show is scripted. The rest is improvised by the characters. A two hour improv show. Seems to me that’s a lot to ask of your cast. Like, do The Groundlings do 2 hour skits?
Not to say that they were not game. They were! Benedict Holme I thought really embodied Basil! And had some good lines! And Leigh Kelly brought lots of energy and physicality. And Alison Pollard-Mansergh had some zingers!
But a lot of the time, the actors are interacting one on one with an audience member or actually serving food. At these times, you are left to converse with the other audience members that have been seated at your table. Which is fine, but I am not sure people were expecting this to be a “meet- new-friends event? They might have preferred to take a cooking class if that’s what they wanted?
As for the scripted parts; I think maybe “Fawlty Towers” is a bit of a product of a different time. The show’s two seasons were in 1975 and then 1979. That’s 36 years ago. I am just not sure that a show that relies for laughs so heavily on a 1st generation immigrant not understanding English and a business owner physically and mentally abusing his employee plays as well these days?
But if you are looking for re-enactments of some of the most iconic scenes of the original show, they are there. And there certainly seemed to be lots of people that seemed pretty danged happy to see them.
That said, it also seemed that maybe they were still working out the kinks, and there is potential for the show to get tighter as the run continues?
Although as for the venue and the food, I don’t know what to tell you.
Rating? One goose-stepping Englishman out of Five!
Photo credit: Leigh Kelly as Manuel. Photo courtesy of Starvox Entertainment and Interactive Theatre International.