Above: Blazey Best, Stephen Hall, Aimee Horne and Syd Brisbane. Below: Basil does his silly walk. Photos: James Morgan.
Fawlty Towers – Live
By John Cleese and Connie Booth
Produced by Michael Coppel and Phil McIntyre with Louise Withers
Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Season: 28 December 2016 to 22 January 2017. Duration two hours including interval. Bookings: www.qpac.com.au or 136 246.
Fawlty Towers is cult comedy. It began life as a two season BBC TV production back in the 1970s. There were just 12 shows, but they have lived on, gaining new generations of fans. But would the morphing of old TV show scripts into a two-act live stage comedy work?
John Cleese took three of his favourite episodes, the Germans, the restaurant writers and the missing money (plus a bit of the rat in the kitchen show) and melded them together into a script that flowed nicely. All the favourite characters were there, Basil, Sybil, Polly, Manuel, and the Major who were expertly played. They won over the audience in seconds and had them laughing continuously. It was a varied audience too, with a lot of children sitting alongside their parents who mixed with the opening night regulars and they seemed to be enjoying the experience.
The dialogue of course is brilliantly funny and had the audience in constant fits of chuckles and belly laughs. There was also a lot of pre-emptive laughter as favourite moments approached. I confess to being a Fawlty Towers fan and can remember practically all of the shows; even so I laughed myself silly much of the time, sometimes at the memory sometimes because of a fresh approach and perfect timing of the actors involved.
It was a huge production with cast of 15 and had a magnificent set, designed by Liz Ascroft, that must have eaten up money but added so much to the show. The costumes and wigs too were character matched to perfection.
The script we know is funny, but it needs characters to give substance to the words and they were created perfectly by the Australian cast. Blazey Best gave us Sybil instantly with her throaty laugh and sarcastically pitched voice. Aimee Horne gave us a soft centred Polly and Syd Brisbane was a very well-played Manuel.
Stephen Hall was Basil. I thought he “played” Basil early in Act One but he became Basil in Act 2 when he was superb, his silences spoke volumes and had the audience in stiches as did his magical body language. It was a masterful performance.
It was most evident during the “don’t mention the war” sequences, where he dealt with his guest while suffering from concussion after the moose had fell on him. This one had me laughing so hard it hurt, so did his dealings with Mrs Richards the deaf lady who lost £85 during the so funny story about Basil’s illicit horse race gambling. Deborah Kennedy was perfect in a role I remember so well from the original.
Paul Denny gave a brilliant Bernard Cribbinsesque performance as Mr Hutchinson the spoon-selling guest Basil thought was a restaurant critic; but one of my favourite performances came from Paul Bertram as The Major, the absent-minded permanent guest. His comic timing was a joy to watch, He won every laugh his lines gave him. It was a terrific performance.
The biggest cheer of the night however came when Stephen Hall did Basil’s famous silly walk.
There is no doubt this is a classy production and whether you are a fan or not so long as you appreciate brilliant farce then you will enjoy this one.