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Faulty Towers the Dining Experience
Published on Friday, 13 August 2010

4 stars

B'est Restaurant (venue website)
8 - 31 Aug (not 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28), 8:30pm (10:30pm); 6 - 31 Aug (not 7, 14, 21, 28), 2:00pm (4:00pm)
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

Fawlty Towers is widely regarded as the defining British sitcom – and it's as famous for John Cleese and Connie Booth calling it quits after only 12 episodes, as it is for German guests, rats in biscuit tins and Austin 1100s getting a damn good thrashing.  This Fringe, though, you have the chance to bring the classic back to life and dine at the hands of Basil and co.

Faulty Towers the Dining Experience (note the intentionally corrected spelling) is the invention of Interactive Theatre Australia, having been developed down under over ten years ago.  With multiple line-ups operating a rotating tour schedule, Faulty Towers is an international hit, with the grandly-titled 'Team 1' returning to the Edinburgh Fringe while the people of Western Australia are left to put up with 'Team 3'.  Although there are two performances per day, both dinner and a slightly cheaper lunchtime sitting, tickets are running out the door faster than Manuel's 'hamster', with only a handful of dates available at the time of writing.

Spending an evening with Basil, Sybil and Manuel is an experience wholly unlike any other.  It's equal parts theatrical performance, improvisational comedy, and sheer hard work running a restaurant amid the chaos, which combines to be something more than merely the sum of those.  There is a very slight plot at work: gags are set up and paid off throughout, the earliest setup being in the queue outside when Sybil appears with her golf clubs – it doesn't take too much to deduce whose head will have a club wrapped round it before the end of the show.  Nods are also made to favourite episodes from the television original, and we'd all feel cheated, I suppose, if Basil didn't end the night goosestepping around, fingers to his face in a Hitler moustache.

But, as with the original, the real enjoyment is in the characterisation.  Michael Davoren is perfect as Basil, just the right mix of rudeness, exasperation and henpecked passive-aggressiveness.  Karen Hamilton plays Sybil expertly, quiet coolness to Basil's sound and fury, although her accent remains more Tuckanarra than Torquay.  And Daley Donnelly does well as Manuel, hopelessly misinterpreting Basil's every command (albeit in a voice that ranges between Barcelona and Warsaw).

But the dining part of the "dining experience" is what lets it down.  It's possible, just about, that the quality of fare is all part of the joke; I certainly hope it isn't representative of the best of B'Est.  At the dinner sitting I attended, a weak vegetable broth was followed by a random choice from pork loin with mash and thin gravy, which I had; chicken breast with what appeared to be boiled potatoes and a cream-based sauce, which I merely observed; or a vegetarian risotto, chosen by my companion, with the looks of rice pudding and the taste of cold porridge.  Upon enquiring about side dishes, I was informed by Manuel that his hamster ate them all (although, to be fair to the hapless Spaniard, he did shortly afterwards appear with a whole, uncooked aubergine, turnip and courgette for me).  The three course meal was rounded off with a sliver of cheesecake smeared with marmalade.  Drinks, of course, were not included, and B'Est has a compact but adequate wine list: expect to pay a further £15 to £20 for a serviceable bottle.

Audience participation is always going to be an important element of an event like this, and to some extent you should be prepared to put something of yourself into it.  But you should also make sure to give the performers room to bring the characters to the fore, and you can count on an absolutely unique and hilarious experience.  And not once need anyone mention the War.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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