Friday, 23 September 2016

Fawlty Towers Live, Sept 22, 2016 ***1/2

Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth, adapted for stage by John Cleese from original BBC series
Produced by Michael Coppel & Phil McIntyre in association with Louise Withers
Comedy Theatre, until Oct 23, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2 
Review also published online in Herald Sun Arts on Fri Sept 23, 2016 and later in print. KH
Blazey Best, Stephen Hall
Even Fawlty Towers purists should find some hearty laughs in this stage adaptation of John Cleese and Connie Booth’s iconic, 1970s BBC comedy series brought to life here with Basil, Sybil, Manuel, Polly and a parade of their hapless guests at the Torquay Hotel.

Cleese himself wrote the stage script that merges three of his favourite episodes of Fawlty Towers – Communication Problems, The Hotel Inspectors and The Germans – into one, extended narrative using original scenarios, dialogue and eccentric characters.

Fawlty Towers Live, directed by Caroline Jay Ranger, utilises all the same, classic comic techniques as the TV series: whip-smart dialogue, gags and battles of wit, archetypical characters, physical comedy and slapstick, absurd situations, confused identities and status relationships all played out in a single location.

Of course, the TV series cannot be beaten for its comic innovation, rapid-fire pace and the achingly funny and excruciating predicaments into which Basil (Stephen Hall) gets himself, but the opening night audience roared at its favourite Fawlty Towers moments.

Hall delivers Basil’s Nazi goose-stepping, makes his faux pas with the Germans saying, “Don’t mention the war”, smacks Manuel (Syd Brisbane) on the nose with a spoon, is knocked unconscious by a moose head, abuses his bemused guests and schmoozes those he thinks are more important.

There are certainly problems with taking a TV classic to the stage and the production is bumpy at times with scene changes that look manufactured and too much like television segues.

Another question for a live production is how to portray and do justice to Cleese’s much imitated and yet inimitable character, Basil Fawlty.

Although many of the cast reproduce the voice, style and timing of the original, screen characters, allowing the audience to relive favourite scenes and lines, Hall captures the essence of Cleese’s physicality and comic delivery without replicating it.

However, his mostly restrained vocal delivery and characterisation of Basil do not always garner the maximum laughs.

Blazey Best as Sybil channels Prunella Scales with her nasal twang, prolonged vowels, dragon-wife glare and wry delivery, while Brisbane as Manuel gets huge laughs with his signature reply, “Che?” and his line, “I know nothing. I’m from Barcelona.”

Aimee Horne has charm and subtlety as Polly and looks and sounds uncannily like Connie Booth, while Paul Bertram is suitably blustering as the aged and forgetful Major.

Deborah Kennedy is hilariously pompous and intrusive as the deaf Mrs. Richards, while Paul Denny almost steals early scenes as Mr. Hutchinson, the pedantic and verbose spoon salesman.

This live tribute can never match the TV show and some aficionados may not love it, but it has some huge laughs of recognition and the final scene captures the mayhem of Basil’s shambolic hotel world.

By Kate Herbert 
 Cast, Fawlty Towers

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