Three potatoes, a carrot, and a raw onion; the plated punch-line my partner was served upon her outing as a vegetarian, and, abstractly, my award for Faulty Towers The Dining Experience out of five vege-phorical stars. This is a would-be recipe comprised of comfortably familiar staples, yet some of the ingredients here have gone stale while others remain undercooked.
Apologies from the outset for spoiling one from the show’s grab-bag of gags, but for the most part the pay-offs are entirely predictable – and that’s precisely the intended point. Adapted from the beloved BBC series, the interactive dining experience is one for the tragics and nostalgically self-indulgent. Still, there is a bit of meat in the dish for the once-a-fan or unlikely uninitiated, with the more general gist of hospitality-incompetence of broad enough appeal.
First up, this is good, silly fun. The acting ensemble is pitch-perfect in their roles playing hapless husband and wife hoteliers, Basil and Sybil Fawlty, along with the ever-loveable Catalonian wait-hand in Manuel. The trio manage to successfully milk the dated source-material for all the sustenance it’s worth, including liberal dips into the Basil-Manuel Cross-Lingual Miscommunication Manual for Comedy Kicks. For me, these playful verbal pratfalls provided the highlights. Less so the unironic corporeal abuse of an expatriate domestic servant, which seemed somewhat, let’s say, superannuated.
At the risk of impressing as ageist, it was perhaps telling that my partner was the sole ‘cud-chewing’ vego in the venue, with the average age of the punters present on the broken-hip-baiting side of 60. As such, the audience seemed largely unsubjected to pesky post-millennial campaigns of liberal brainwashing and appeared to thoroughly enjoy each and every upside-the-head moment of aggresive slap-stick (along with, of course, the entrée of strained pumpkin soup).
But then, this show isn’t for the precious or passively voyeuristic. Be prepared for man-handling and the oddly refreshing food health-and-safety breaches, such as having to track your fork like a three-card-monty mark among the crop of used cutlery that will periodically appear at your table. Thanks to Manuel, my pre-purchased ale was soon enough a shandy, and I’m certain that had Basil uncovered my effeminate beverage I would have copped a spray, figuratively, unlike those diners who genuinely ended up with liquid in their laps. I only got Manuel in mine.
Those in attendance were all good sports, with the professional cast expert at taking the pulse to pin-point exactly how far to push. Still, I couldn’t help but hope they’d properly overstep and really piss off a pensioner: a demonstrative example of a demented mind in these desensitised contemporary times. This is a show based on a show that first aired forty years ago, and despite its legacy, most notably in the masterful interweaving of numerous subplots, the comedic world has forever toddled on.
And it’s in the show’s own attempted blending of structural threads where the Faulty Dining Experience has its greatest slips. The live adaption is suitably chaotic and entertaining from the get-go, with the on-edge audience soon begging (but not really) for some breathing space amidst the wait-service mayhem. But when it comes, in the form of the slower-paced and less interactive scripted set-pieces, it feels somehow flat in the ramped-up and expectant atmosphere, altogether light and labored; an underworked script trying to shoe-horn the entire tick-list of fan-favourite moments into an overburdened concept.
These forced sections are when you become suddenly aware you’re watching actors impersonating actors who played once-upon-a-time characters from another era – not in some cool Kaufmanesque meta-sense, but more so in a chowing on Chicken Kiev while watching an Abba tribute concert kind of way. Three Pattypan Squashes. One each for the superb cast.
For show times and to book tickets, see the Fringe guide.