The Faulty Towers Dining Experience by Imagination workshop was a great comedic night for the senses. The historical Aegean venue in Brunswick St, Fitzroy provided the venue for this event, and was most suitable and accommodating to the kind of play and challenges this type of interactive theatre show presents.
Upon arrival, all guests were met as a group by the adorable Manuel (Anthony Sottile), the manic Basil Fawlty (Benedict Holme) and the charming Sybil Fawlty (Karen Hamilton), who transferred us to our shared group seating within the restaurant. And it was here that the lovable Manuel’s literal interpretation of Basil’s demands to ‘circulate the nuts’ came into focus with great laughs from all of us, and warmly settled us into this atmosphere. Immediately, you felt you had slipped back in time to 1975 when the first of the two 6 episode series co-written by John Cleese and then wife Connie Booth went to air on the BBC. Costumes suitably harked back to this era as well, Manuel in appropriate waiter attire, Sybil in a gorgeous multi-frilled pink satin shirt and smart black and white checkered twin set skirt and Basil in the identifiable tweed jacket and slacks. The structure of the evening saw us treated to a three course dinner within a two hour time framed show – amazing work by the actors and real life chefs / waiters to ensure all went smoothly from both sectors. Time flew with this show as there was always something happening, always something to look at within the large oval seating space that had an aisle down the centre for the more dramatic exchanges to be easily viewed by everyone and allowed for entertaining and / or irate runs back and forward to the kitchen with plates and bowls and towels.
This interactive version saw about half scripted with lines and scenarios we have come to love and the other half improvised given the reactions and relationship nature of the audience; favourite episodes touched upon involved Manuel’s love for his missing hamster, Sybil’s love of shopping and ensuring Basil goes through a fire plan with his guests, Basil hiding his gambling habits from Sybil and of course his Nazi Germany rant and enduring frustration of Manuel’s inability to properly heed instructions. The chemistry between the three actors was evident, they worked in and around each other well, knowing when to cut in or draw back – a sign that these seasoned actors know when to give and take the limelight and trust one another implicitly – so important in impromptu theatre. Indeed, what was highly commendable was their ability constantly stay in character, focussed on the tasks at hand, as well as quickly reading opportunities to milk a moment for comedic effect based on audience remarks; we especially liked Sybil’s quick witted remarks to a overzealous fork tapping, soup hiding patron – OCD indeed!
Sottile totally embodied the mannerisms and quirks of Manuel; his head tilts of confusion, the sweaty towel mops to his brow, his ‘que?’ retorts and sneaky smiles really encapsulated what we know and love about this endearing immigrant. His starring moments were literally rolling his head on a plate whilst serving our bread, and then later using a female patron to assist him up on the table to sing a song, and get us all to join in only to be smacked down and chased by Basil – hilarious physical comedy.
Holme was equally as masterful as Basil; managing to pull off such remarkable likeness with his gangly body movements and malleable facial expressions (be it pain or irate distaste) that showed his aptitude for physical interpretation outside of the lines and also how to use words and actions in building up a moment.
Hamilton also managed to expertly nail the subtle characteristics of Sybil; her sly sarcasm, fake genial smile and sharp pitched call of “Basil” were priceless. And her tonal talents came to the fore during a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for an audience member to amusing effect and her nagging nonstop rant to Basil was highly entertaining. Again, it was the good banter between all three that kept this play moving at a cracking pace that one never tired of watching and hilariously laughing at all the scenarios on show.
In terms of dining it should be mentioned the three course set food was simple yet delicious; soup, chicken with yummy mushy peas and sticky date. People on our table were well catered for in terms of food allergies and vegetarian requirements. Drinks were very reasonably priced with a good selection of wines. You can only pity the ‘dishies’ on wash up of all Manuel’s broken plates! My only slight criticism was the absence of the much loved Polly character from the show. However, overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening for a touring season that deserves high praise within the mammoth Comedy Festival schedule of events. It really makes you want to want to go home and rent out and watch the series all over again!