Paul Johnson | 09 Mar 2012 19:43pm
As director Jeannie McSaunders noted in the programme, adapting TV scripts to the stage can be quite a daunting task. Speaking as someone who has directed adaptations of Dad’s Army and Hi De Hi, I know the pitfalls only too well. Audience expectations are sky-high. They want to see their favourite show and characters reproduced absolutely faithfully. Which is why the idea of bringing three episodes of probably the greatest and most cherished of all TV comedies to the stage fills me with dread. But the good folks at the Erith Playhouse are obviously made of sterner stuff. The omens were promising when we saw the ‘anagrammed’ versions of the Fawlty Towers sign projected onto the curtains: ‘Fatty Owls’!’Warty Towels’!’Flay Otters’!even the infamous BBC censor-dodger ‘Flowery Tw*ts’ appeared, complete with coy empty space where the offending letter should be. When those curtains parted, hopes rose even higher. Here was a faithful replica of the TV set, cunningly re-imagined to allow us to see the reception, dining room, bar and even one of the bedrooms simultaneously. It could have benefitted from a bit more paint and attention to detail here and there, but this was a clever design. And straight away, there he was the man himself behind the reception desk: Basil Fawlty. This, for me, was the defining moment. Would this Fawlty be as good as the original? Let’s make no bones about it, Basil is the engine that drives Fawlty Towers. John Cleese played him with such energy and wild-eyed near-insanity one feared he would do himself a mischief. David Maun certainly has the same gangly build and, to his credit, didn’t settle for doing a Cleese impersonation (although his toothbrush moustache made him look disconcertingly like Ron Mael, the Hitler lookalike from the 1970s pop group Sparks). However, his performance lacked that crucial manic intensity. Basil is a man on the edge, constantly working himself into a comic frenzy in his efforts to avoid embarrassment and/or being ‘found out’. Here, the ‘frenzies’ often came across as mere mild annoyance. A shame, because just about everything else in this production was right on the money: Jacqueline Vander Gucht’s ‘Sybil’ was as formidable as the original, Graham Fosdick’s ‘Major’ was every bit as bonkers as he should be and Nicky Bate’s ‘Polly’ was as fiesty as Connie Booth’s. But it was Peter Sapi’s long-suffering ‘Manuel’ that truly stole the show. His facial expressions, accent and timing were at least as good as Andrew Sachs’ and the way he upstaged everyone while silently setting the table in the dining room was naughty, but masterful. The rest of the cast also did well, with most playing multiple roles. I particularly enjoyed Tom Hopkins’ turn as the irritatingly awkward spoons salesman in ‘The Hotel Inspectors’ and I would love to able to name the lady who so brilliantly played the maddeningly deaf Mrs Richards in ‘Communication Problems’, but unfortunately the programme didn’t give individual credits to the supporting cast, listing them simply as ‘Guests of Fawlty Towers’. Still, well done, whoever you were! As far as the staging goes, those aforementioned difficulties inherent in adapting TV shows for the stage were very apparent in the first half, when too many blackouts between scenes slowed the pace somewhat. But full marks to the backstage team for at least keeping the pauses as short as possible.
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- : 05/03/2012