"Well may I ask what you expected to see […] Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain...?”
Fawlty Towers is famous for being such a successful television show, even though there were only 12 episodes ever made. This week Grantham Dramatic Society are bringing three of these to the Guildhall Arts Centre. They have previously performed Fawlty Towers in 2007, but are have selected different episodes this time around: Communication Problems, The Germans and Basil The Rat.
The show leads have been well cast with each one bringing the character that we know and love to life. Paul Meakin, the company’s Chairman, steps into John Cleese’s rather large shoes to be the down trodden hotelier, Basil Fawlty. Paul is genuinely funny and manages to be both Cleese-esque in his delivery, whilst still making the character his own. This is a very good thing, as the show hangs quite heavily on his shoulders, there being very few scenes that he isn’t in. Tami Brown has perfected Sybil Fawlty’s laugh and she seems to be revelling in the part she’s been cast in.
For me, the two most consistently solid performances of the night were from Helen Pack and Silas Lee, playing Polly and Manuel respectively. Helen’s Polly was well delivered and she managed to bring out both the genial and the sharp-tongued sides of her character. When I first saw photos of Silas in character, I was taken by how much he resembles Jonathan Sayer’s Butler in ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. In fact with Silas’ excellent overacting, prat-falls and slapstick abilities, he could quite easily, in my opinion, step into TPTGW the next time it’s being recast!
What makes a farce great is timing, I reviewed the show on opening night, and so I’ll give them a little leeway on this. The interruptions need to be slicker, there were several times where an actor stopped their sentence halfway through, there was a pause, and then the ‘interrupting’ actor delivered their line. Though this is how the line is written in the script, the actor needs to have the rest of the sentence ready, just in case the interruption doesn’t come when expected. There was also some times where the cast pre-empted the interruption, stopped their conversation and looked towards a closed door, for it then to burst open moments later. I’m sure that as the cast get more comfortable with the set and timings moving around the stage, this will improve; indeed it is often the way that opening night is the real dress rehearsal!
One line needed prompting last night, which is fine; however there were two notable points where cast members were unfortunately reading their scripts on stage. The second would have gotten away with it, if the clipboard holding the script (which granted was a suitable prop at that point) wasn’t then turned towards the audience to show an obviously full typed script!
The set was very well made and well used. The left side of the stage was the hotel foyer, complete with back office and stairs to the bedrooms, a half wall and doorway then led through to the kitchen and dining room. The missing walls were replaced with clever positioning of furniture. Well done to the set designers Gemma, Paul, Kevin and Martin.
The other scene was a small bedroom that was built on stage during a blackout. Sadly, this was one of the more painful moments of the show. It took the crew up to 30 seconds to strike the bedroom, leaving the audience in pitch-black silence while this took place, and this change happened several times during the show. A simple addition of some music during this would have made it a lot easier to digest. Music was available, as the Fawlty Towers theme played before each of the episodes started, and in between each we were treated to some nostalgic adverts from the time. They seemed to land well with audience members who caught Fawlty Towers the first time around (I wasn’t one!) and they joined in singing along to a Cadburys’ flake ad at one point!
Despite the best efforts of the couple sat behind me to get the applause going, the audience finally warmed up during Episode 2 and gave the cast some end of scene praise, always a tricky point in plays where you haven’t got the obvious breaks at the end of songs, as in musicals, to cue applause, but once started, the audience were happy to oblige.
Episode 2 was “the Germans”, and in it we had an eclectic range of German accents, the first one delivered his German fine, but could do with adding some intonation to convince us that he knew what he had just said. The following Germans were much livelier in their delivery, and from what I can remember of it, seemed to be correct German as well! I had to have a quick check when I got home, but yes, the original TV episode was just as cringe-worthy as last night’s was, so well done! Part of the joy of Fawlty Towers is seeing Basil spiral out of control in these situations, and the Grantham Dramatics managed to recreate that perfectly.
The props team (Gillian, Tami Stephen and Paul) did their selves proud with several little touches that could have been missed: the coffee jug poured coffee, the syringe turned red when drawing blood and a rat that runs across the stage (though I’ll leave it to future audiences to work out how that one was done!). The fire alarm level was pitched just right, loud enough to be an alarm, but even though the cast weren’t mic’d up (that I could tell), every word could be heard – even during the chaos of those scenes! Well done to Suzanne Stevens and the Guildhall Technical Staff for that. Not wanting to give any spoilers (though can you really spoil a 40 year old show?) the effects when Manuel’s chip pan goes up was also well executed.
I had an enjoyable night, and if it wasn’t for the 100-mile round trip that I took, I’d probably be telling my friends to pop along! Grantham Dramatic Society bring Fawlty Towers to the Guildhall Arts Centre nightly until Saturday 28th November 2015. Tickets are available from the Centre on 01476 406158 or online: http://www.guildhallartscentre.com/shows/fawlty-towers/