Review By Carly Fisher
The foyer of the ballroom level of Adelaide's Stamford Plaza is packed as soon as you get out of the lift. There seems to be a giddy anticipation amongst those waiting to partake in the Faulty Towers Dining Experience - the audience is made up of obvious fans of the 1975 show. And then there is me...quite obviously younger than the average audience member having not been alive yet for the TV show's release date but still with my own nostalgia towards the show. I remember the VHS recordings my dad's friend gave to me as a kid and the tapes which I watched repeatedly!
I've been trying to attend this show for years in various cities, so I was certainly excited about finally catching it at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
The show begins well before you enter the dining hall. The actors come out through the foyer to begin their first skit and immediately, those classic scenes between Basil and Manuel that all centre around the language barrier, come rushing back to you as jokes about glasses, nuts and sitting are quickly rolled out before you. It's a fun start and the immediate chaos is certainly what you come here expecting...it is Faulty Towers after all. Basil proceeds to read out where we shall all be seated for, in this instance, our lunch, and the audience eventually takes their seats at the tables.
It's a nice way to get to meet new people if you are in a smaller group - our table was certainly chatty and everyone was keen to talk about their Faulty Towers experiences. I learnt quickly that this show was a repeat experience for many at the table and wondered whether the jokes would still land for them - pleased to report that in many cases, they seemed to.
Rob Langston, Anthony Sottile and Rebecca Fortuna as Basil, Manuel and Sybil play their parts to perfection, with Manuel being the definite standout. They have the characterisation of these beloved three down pat and the accent work was remarkable - I commend them each for their complete focus and commitment to the character no matter how many audience members tried to break them. There was not a single crack in character or accent at any point - very impressive.
The jokes were what you'd expect from this experience and to be fair, many audience members cackled their way through - the woman on the table next to me was sobbing with laughter throughout. And whilst I certainly smiled and giggled at parts, to me, nothing was laugh out loud funny unfortunately and so, I had to question, why?
Firstly, I think that the run time is much too long. I do understand that you eat a meal throughout and so time must be allocated to that but the storyline does not sustain the over 2.5 hour run time of the experience. The jokes do not advance much beyond jokes similar to those in the foyer prior to entering the dining room. Faulty Towers as a TV show ran for 30 minutes. It's a brave idea to think that the jokes will sustain for such an elongated duration. For some, they truly do. For me, it quickly became repetitive.
I can attribute this to a couple main things - firstly, being only in the dining room without the phone or the front desk where Basil of the TV show once ruled, we miss much of the original story. Faulty Towers was a hotel and without the front desk established and the other guests abruptly ringing the bell, arriving with more luggage than Manuel could carry or the phone consistently ringing to the point of madness for Basil, something is lost. I think that something that is missing is a straight character or two in the story....and Polly. With just the three characters presented, all of whom are absolutely larger than life, we miss something of the 'simpleness' of the true task at hand that made the TV show such a hoot.
I also think that the Basil v. Sybil rivalry is laid on a bit thick in this show...there is no love lost between the two and the constant bickering does wane in its entertainment.
Finally, truth be told, I have to question how well this story has aged. The language gap jokes and Manuel's ESL status seem less funny than they did in the original. Some seem silly now, some seem offensive, some are fine, but any which way, none sustained a 2.5 hour show for me.
It was fun to walk down memory lane and revisit a show that I adored so much as a kid, and I certainly think that super fans of the show will love this experience still. But I don't think that this show in its current format and at its current run time will appeal to the masses.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.