There’s a thing that’s been happening in London since 2012 (and elsewhere around the world for 20 years). Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience is exactly what it sounds like, if not what it spells like. It replicates the abusive experience of being served a meal by noted hotelier and ball of rage Basil Fawlty in the just-about-serviceable dining room of his Torquay lodging establishment Fawlty Towers, where they are always out of waldorfs for the salad. Faulty Towers has started a new permanent residency at the Kingsway Hall Hotel in Covent Garden (not far from Holburn tube station), and I recently attended a performance.
It is an absolute riot. I have not laughed so hard in ages.
The production goes out of its way to explain that the original scripts for the classic 1970s BBC sitcom are not used in this event. When you attend Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience, you are not watching a live performance of one of the show’s episodes. This isn’t like the retro snark of those staged readings of Brady Bunch episodes that were popular for a while. You are literally sitting in a hotel dining room surrounded by dozens of other Fawlty Towers fans who have also memorized those episodes while being served a meal by Basil, Sybil, and Manuel as they fling abuse at one another, and occasionally at you. This is immersive snobbery, passive-aggression, and cowering fear. With dinner. If you can stop laughing long enough to take a bite or two.
What you witness may not be the full-blown episodes we know and love, but the series’ writers, John Cleese and Connie Booth, deserve plenty of credit nevertheless, because bits from the episodes will appear in the shouted-across-the-room discourse — we got a bit of “Basil the rat” and “don’t mention the war,” among others — along with plenty of improv in the inimitable style of all three characters. Well, not quite inimitable, perhaps, because the actors playing Basil, Sybil, and Manuel created absolutely perfect impersonations of the characters originated by Cleese, Prunella Scales, and Andrew Sachs. (The cast rotates among a large group of performers.) “Basil” hadn’t even opened his mouth to announce that the dining room was open — early in the evening, when all the guests were gathered in the bar — and I was already giggling like a loon: just seeing him lope into the room oozing an unctuousness that barely hid his contempt for us was hilarious. (There’s no Polly the maid, whom Booth played on the show, at The Dining Experience. Polly was the straight woman, and we, the diners and audience, fill that role here.)
The food? The food was fine. Nothing special or memorable but fine. Like exactly what you’d expect from a simultaneous sit-down dinner for dozens of people, like at a wedding perhaps. I think I had chicken with potatoes. The meal is three courses, and there was plenty of it. You won’t go hungry. Drinks are extra, and the bar stays open the whole night, which does undoubtedly make the experience even funnier.
But you don’t go to this for the food. You go to be submerged in the glory that is Basil’s fury, Sybil’s acidity, and Manuel’s groveling. I’m not sure it would make much sense if you’re not a fan of the show, but if you are, Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience is a must.
Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience is now booking until December 2017 at TorquaySuiteTheatre.com. Evening performances Thursday through Sunday, lunchtimes on the weekend, with different packages available; hotel accommodation is also available at a discount.
photo at top: official publicity; others by me
UPDATE 05.22.17: From the publicist, who has seen your comments: “It’s on national/international tour if people want to see it outside London, plus it’s spelled ‘Faulty’ on purpose because it’s a tribute to the TV show, with a different format and scripts, ie not the TV show itself.”