Fawlty Towers Live
Michael Coppel and Phil McIntyre in association with Louise Withers
December 28 2016 – January 22 2017
Reviewed by Michelle Widdicombe
When I stepped inside QPAC’s Playhouse and saw the transformation of the stage into that little seaside hotel at Torquay, I knew I was in for a trip down memory lane. And it was a nostalgic trip, which didn’t disappoint.
Fawlty Towers Live took me right back to Summer nights watching the much-loved 1970s British sitcom on the TV with Dad, only this experience wasn’t in front of a small box, but live and large, close enough to almost catch the drips of sweat from the forehead of a frustrated Basil Fawlty and feel the heat escape from a jaw-clenching Sybil.
John Cleese’s own adaptation blends plot lines and scenes from several episodes – The Hotel Inspectors, Communication Problems, and The Germans – into a two-hour show. It leaves you wanting more; more laughs, more of Basil’s over-the-top reactions, Manuel’s confusion, Sybil’s annoyance and her throaty laugh, and more of Polly Shearman, who you’d swear was the young Connie Booth on stage.
The set is almost the same as we remember seeing in the television show. Everything is retro, reflecting the original Fawlty Towers hotel. There is even an upstairs bedroom on stage, built above the reception/dining area. The characters move seamlessly from reception to dining to kitchen to bedroom, never missing a beat between scenes. Liz Ascroft (set and costume design) is to be applauded for recreating a stage which mirrors the landscape of the original Fawlty Towers.
Steven Hall as Basil Fawlty strikes the perfect balance between the original character and his own interpretation of it. Physically, he’s just as tall but not as lean and his gestures are almost identical. When Syd Brisbane first appeared on stage as waiter, Manuel, I thought for a second Andrew Sachs was before me on the small screen. Brisbane’s faultless execution of Manuel’s utter confusion and limited grasp of the English language kept the rumble of laughter going throughout the audience. His ‘I know nothing’ line is such a familiar and popular scene that some of us say it with him. Brisbane dedicated his performance to Sachs, who recently passed away.
Deborah Kennedy, cast as the selectively deaf Mrs Richards, is absolutely brilliant. She commands the stage, delivering a performance which reflects her 40 plus years in the industry.
The script for Fawlty Towers Live is the original, with a few tweaks: a celebration of the genius work of John Cleese and Connie Booth. As a Fawlty Towers tragic, I absolutely loved the show but wondered if it had more appeal because I had grown up watching the British sitcom over and over again? Certainly the young woman in front of me (probably aged in her early 20s) seemed more interested in nibbling on her partner’s ear than watching what was happening on stage. It’s fair to say most of the audience inside QPAC’s Playhouse were of an age that would have watched the original Fawlty Towers over and over again. I guess we all wanted to relive some of the happiest moments from our past, and going by the roar and the applause that came at the end of the show there were no unsatisfied customers.
Thank you John Cleese for believing that Australia would be the “perfect fit” to mount your world first stage production, with an all Australian lineup. In Basil’s own words, “Thank you so much, goodbye”.