Andrew Foreman as Manuel and (below) Rob Langston as Basil. Photos by Ron Rutten
Faulty Towers - The Dining Experience
Presented by Interactive Theatre International
Sydney Opera House
Season: Touring Regional Show
“Butter. Butter on the table” orders Basil to Manuel. Basil repeats the instruction slowly. Manuel has his trademark look of complete puzzlement; mouth dropped, hands by side. He can’t comprehend the instruction because he is just starting to learn English with the help of his employer Basil. The instructions are repeated. Finally, Manuel does what he believes the instructions are. He finds an unsuspecting female guest and ‘butts her head on the table’. Just like Basil instructed: “Butt her on the table”.
And so, this is Faulty Towers – The Dining Experience It is a travelling show, operating since 1997 all over the world with multiple casts. The stage is in fact the restaurant and the hosts are Basil and his wife Sybil. They have one waiter to help them, Manuel (pronounced Man-well) and he is from Barcelona (probably because he’s cheap). We, the audience are about to be served dinner under the watchful eye of our maître d, Basil.
Our ‘dining experience’ is in one of the most iconic locations in the world: the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House, with fantastic views across Farm Cove. It’s a long way from Torquay but ironically, a location that Basil famously mentioned when handling a complaint from Mrs Richards about the view from her room. You remember that episode, don’t you?
You don’t need to have seen the 1970’s classic TV series Fawlty Towers to appreciate this show. In fact, to walk in blind with no previous knowledge would be a real eye-opener! But for those of us who love the Fawlty Towers episodes, this experience is a godsend.
Many of the great scenes involving Basil, Sybil and Manual are re-enacted right before our eyes. And the impersonations are superb.
The evening starts with Basil calling out our names and table numbers. Don’t dawdle or be late, you might suffer one of his quick but friendly insults. Only one third of this show is scripted, the rest is interactive and off the cuff, so keep your wits about you.
Once seated, I glance at my phone for messages. MISTAKE. Sybil appears from nowhere and asks me “Are you a Doctor?” “No” I reply. “Oh. We get a lot of doctors checking their phones. I was hoping you were a psychiatrist so you could help Basil with his condition.”
Naturally, there is an amazing team of wait-staff to help Manuel deliver and remove our courses. Once the soups are served, Basil announces “Stop. Everybody Stop. Chef has lost something.” We all stir our soup hoping not to find anything untoward. Alas, success. Basil announces that he has found chef’s dentures in a lady’s soup bowl on Table 8 and proudly holds them aloft as he retreats to the kitchen.
The pace of the performance is impressive. It does not feel rushed at all, however over a two-hour period (with a 20-minute interval), we are served three delicious courses and relive some of the greatest comedy sketches ever written. Conspicuous by their absence is Polly and a Waldorf salad!
Whilst Basil is in the kitchen, Manuel takes control of the room. Having been told by Sybil to “wait on tables”, he jumps up on a centre table and begins a rendition of ‘Viva Espana’ to which the whole room joins in. Of course, Manuel has a pet hamster (Basil calls it a rat because it has a tail) which he wants us all to see. Fortunately, he brings it out in a small cage but inevitably it escapes, and the ensuing search is hilarious. Don’t worry; no live animals are used in this production.
Other scenes relived include Basil’s famous goosestep; his attempt to get a bet on a horse called Sapphire; and his ‘This is typical’ speech in which he likens the complaints from his guests to how Nazi Germany evolved.
Sybil quite rightly suggests to Basil to run a fire drill in case of an emergency. He gives us instructions and begins a 20-second countdown. “Well, what are you all doing” he yells. “Don’t just sit there. Talk amongst yourselves until the alarm goes off”. When Manuel gets his hands on the fire extinguisher, it’s an absolute riot.
Full credit to the impersonators who play Basil, Sybil and Manuel (Rob Langston, Monique Lewis-Reynolds and Andrew Foreman): their resemblance to the original characters is uncanny. Basil in his tweed jacket moved around like a giant spider, always looking over his shoulder for Sybil before he took action against the witless Manuel. Sybil was impeccably dressed and coiffured. She calmly took Basil’s antics in her stride. And poor old Manuel, the source and butt of so many gags and insults. He really must be the pin-up boy for those trying to learn English. Que?
Faulty Towers – The Dining Experience may soon be in a town near you. Try to see this show if you can. With good company, this professionally performed and light-hearted production is an experience you’ll never forget. It’s a funny-bone tickler. A must-see!