The reviews are in for the (official) world premiere of Fawlty Towers Live at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.
The production stars Stephen Hall as Basil Fawlty and Blazey Best as Sybil.
The reactions are good, if some also noting it’s a bit “pointless” to recreate the show without new material from John Cleese.
But to get the good reviews for such an indelible show is a win.
The stage adaptation of the much-loved 1970s British sitcom created by and starring Monty Python legend John Cleese is a hugely fun and funny romp, blending the TV episodes The Germans, The Hotel Inspectors and Communication Problems seamlessly together. While the actors weren’t cast in their roles to impersonate as such, they are visually perfect, costumes, makeup, mannerisms all aping the originals without ever being cartoonish or creepy. Stephen Hall hits just the right manic note as the hapless Basil Fawlty, while Blazey Best inhabits his wife Sybil effortlessly, imbuing her with just the right amount of slightly scary 70s sass to stop her toppling into caricature.
But for the most part, the production is such an “uncanny valley” adaptation from screen to stage that it feels largely pointless, and almost boring (especially if the Fawlty material is still fresh in mind – it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’ve all been here before). New material for the stage is perhaps a riskier proposition, but would have been more exciting for the audience: a new Fawlty story, unavailable anywhere else? That’s something special. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this is not. As a dramatic work, there’s nothing special about it – scenic transitions and sound design are clumsy, and there isn’t much dynamism in the way the space is used. Everything looks and sounds almost exactly like it did on television, which is exactly what the production set out to achieve. No one can accuse it of failing in its mission to bring the show to the stage, live.
Sydney Morning Herald:
Hall strikes a workable balance between impersonation, homage and a flesh-and-blood Basil of his own. Best is an ideal choice to play Sybil. She lights up the brassier aspects of that personality beautifully. Her presence is missed in the second act. Horne’s Polly Shearman is an eerily perfect physical and vocal impersonation. You could swear it was the young Connie Booth on stage. Syd Brisbane’s Manuel skitters and cringes to order, and when required to, holds the spotlight expertly. His “I know nothing” elicits one of the bigger laughs of a consistently chucklesome night.
This is Fawlty Towers, faithfully rendered: for those who have not watched it in years, it is a somewhat reassuring surprise to find that many of the gags are still funny. Yes, it is riding on the coat-tails of its source material, but this is why it ultimately works.
There’s no doubt Fawlty Towers Live will find a big audience in Australia, and I’m confident it will find its way to the UK soon enough. It’s a meticulous, detailed and undeniably successful recreation of the TV series, even if it never entirely justifies its own existence. I’m not going to say you’d be better off just streaming the original episodes on Netflix — Fawlty Towers Live is gorgeously produced and features a cast of great local actors who deserve to be seen — but the effect is basically the same, and one of those options doesn’t even require you to leave the house.
The AU Review:
The only way to possibly criticise the show is that fans will know what’s coming. The waves of laughter in the room before the punchlines hit was further proof of this – just knowing what was coming was putting a smile on our faces. Things are tossed on their head just enough, mixed around and reproduced for the stage, that it delivers fresh laughs – but you still know what to expect. That said, the way they brought all these storylines to a head at the end though was brilliant, and ultimately Cleese and the team found a way to bring back the best moments of the series which will please Fawlty fans and introduce new ones to its brilliance. And no matter what category you find yourself in, you will laugh. You will laugh until it hurts. Perhaps proof once and for all that this character and this series is timeless. Basil Fawlty will live together, first on screen and now on stage, and this is a show that fans of the series can’t afford to miss.