The Faulty Towers Dining Experience is a fan favourite across the globe, performed on multiple continents to the delight of every audience. Based on the 1970s TV series Fawlty Towers – penned by the incomparable John Cleese and Connie Booth – Faulty Towers is a stunning recreation of the energy and atmosphere the show brought to the small screen.
For the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the cast includes Melbourne locals Anthony Sottile (as the bumbling butler Manuel) and Rebecca Fortuna (as Sybil, long-suffering wife and, according to her husband Basil, occasional dragon), as well as Rob Langston, well-known for his performances as Basil worldwide.
The Faulty Towers Dining Experience leans heavily on references to the show, of course. From the hamster-not-rat, to not mentioning “the war”, to the constant physical abuse of Manuel, and Sybil and Basil’s rocky relationship, the Dining Experience hits every note correctly to draw hysteria from the audience. There are teeth in the soup, and panties under tables, and all sorts of jokes that go far over the head of some younger audience members, but the sheer joy of watching the show come to life before your eyes is a great experience for everyone.
It has to be said, the audience really must be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this kind of show. As it is a totally immersive experience, anyone unwilling to play along with the enormously charismatic and charming cast are going to miss out on a lot of the fun of the evening. Luckily, every person in the room, young and old, had a blast during this performance. Drinks were obviously flowing freely on some tables, leading to some attention-seekers calling out for, well, attention, but the cast classily handled them without breaking stride.
Langston is clearly an old hat as he stalks around the room, threatening Basil and turning his nose up at guests. He truly channels the energy of John Cleese into his performance, and if you were to squint a little it’s almost like Cleese himself is in the room with you, disappointed in every choice you’ve ever made. Fortuna is eminently charming as Sybil, roaming the room to check that people are enjoying themselves, trying on beautiful fur coats, and just delighting the crowd as she berates her husband.
Sottille’s Manuel is the standout performance. Of course, as the comic relief, it’s expected that people will laugh at his antics, but he puts every ounce of himself into his every movement, and the immersion is amazing to see. In terms of improvisation – important in a room full of strangers where the ice must be broken – Sottille is absolutely killer and totally in control of Manuel as a character. Aside from generic interactions, he attempted to find a date for a lady at our table, wandering around the room to search for single men he could point out to her later. Hysterical mostly because it wasn’t me, it was so much fun to watch as he performed.
As for the restaurant, the Stamford Hotel puts on a wonderful feast. The menu is simple but delicious, and has options for anyone with intolerances, allergies, or just preferences – on our table there was someone who specifically requested no cucumber, which of course encouraged the cast to mock her relentlessly (with good humour) for being picky.
The Faulty Towers Dining Experience is well worth the price. Putting aside the fact that’s an almost three-hour show (including a three course meal), the content and quality of the performance is staggeringly amusing, even for those less familiar with the source material. Sure, the references are amusing, but the energy from the cast and the timeless physical comedy can and will entertain anyone who’s willing to play pretend for a few hours.