Brighton Fringe 2012
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience
Interactive Theatre Australia
The Thistle Hotel
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is back in Brighton and the cast is as strong as ever, the comedy as excellent, and the homage to the original continues to pack a performance punch. A full, new episode and a three course meal. What more could you ask for?
With half a dozen casts touting this show across the globe and with a track record of over five years, Faulty Towers is now a legend in its own right. So we now have a legend built on a legend. Cleese and Booth made no further episodes of the classic television comedy, so surely an extra one many years later is a disaster waiting to happen ? Not so, for what we have here is an attention to detail combined with a self-enclosed creativity that created both a successful homage and a new show in its own right.
The pre-show beings as we gather in the Thistle atrium and Manuel starts to inepty clear glasses from tables. Enter Basil and Sybil and the mayhem begins. We are led into the dining room and a couple of hours of fine comedy and a three-ctourse meal are both delivered with accomplished skill.
There’s a flow to Faulty Towers from the moment we entered theThistle Hotel and we have character reproduction not caricature, surely an essential cornerstone of a production that rises far above karaoke comedy and impersonation and reaches the level of quality comedy theatre.
This is a performance that entertains and delights both fans of the the original but would also give top value to someone who has never seen that first disastrous hotel in Torquay.
The three actors have achieved an accuracy of portrayal that is outstanding and never does the mask slip, not for a second. All three actors are five star performers.
Of course as audience we aren’t just mere onlookers, we are the diners in a hotel restaurant in meltdown. Plenty of comedy arises from the attempts to deliver a meal that rises above decency but never achieves wonderful. The show is a couple of notches higher than the food. But the food is more than okay. You won’t feel short changed. You’ll get a decent meal and some vintage, quality comedy. And, let’s face it, we don’t want the food to be so amazing it distracts from the fine comedy fare, do we?
So, what of the story? Well it’s an episode in its own right. An extra one, full of signature moments – backhanded comments from Basil, side-swipes from Sybil and misunderstandings from Manuel, the waiter from Barcelona. And plenty of homage to the original and I have no intention of spoiling those delightful moments for you, suffice to say all of the goose-stepping classics are there. There isn’t an over-heavy storyline, but more a flow of happenings that creative enough narrative for us to dive into the comedy. Laughter erupted everywhere, regularly. There is audience involvement, but it is never squirmy and no one shy will be traumatised. This is a show that gets the balance right in some many different areas: interaction, observation, impersonation, homage, physical and verbal comedy, and even entrances and exits. It is so well crafted as a production.
So what we have here are some expertly realised comedy set pieces and the delivery of a three course meal creates opportunities both for enjoyment of performance and eating.
There’s a real challenge in the physical space in creating a symmetry in what each table of people gets to see – where each set piece happens determines the proximity of different audience members. I feel here that one or two tables were a bit left out in terms of the balance of involvement and closeness of view of the action. Those tables seemed a little more muted in response. Yet even those tables’ audience members were all smiles for a comedy show that demonstrates sharp direction and choreography, outstanding portrayal of known characters, and just the right balance between expectations of the familiar and joyful surprise at the inventiveness of the new material. And the attention to detail is hugely impressive – every twitch, every triple-take, ever sigh, frown, every breath. They’ve captured the essence, and they deliver it up to near perfection.
Occasionally the script anchors itself very directly in the original material – "I know nothing" but this is never overdone which is why this is far from mere reproduction.
One quibble is that Sybil’s accent is, at times, too Australian and this is the only significant skip up in a show that oozes care for detail. Because the consistency is so high and so much is so well observed from the original, I think the accents DO matter.
But it’s a minor criticism of a consistent highlight of Fringe festivals. There’s nothing quite like this happening in Brighton in May. Yet again, thoroughly recommended.