I originally wrote this review for Durham Theatre Review, but due to technical problems it was never uploaded onto their site. Undeterred, I decided to put it on here instead, in the hope that if any of you happen to be in the North East, and see that Ooook! Productions are putting on a play, you might go and see it! (And I don’t like my writing being hidden away either. Hey, I never said I was perfect…)
Fawlty Towers, once voted Greatest British Television Programme, is an ambitious project for any director to take on. But Michael Nower, producer Harriet Allen, and the rest of Ooook! Productions did an admirable job in bringing it to the Assembly Rooms stage, providing the promised ‘evening of exquisite hilarity.’
For the performance two episodes from the first series of Fawlty Towers were chosen, ‘Gourmet Night’ and ‘The Germans’. In the first half hour, hotel owner Basil Fawlty (Neil Robinson) attempted to put on a gourmet night, but spent most of the evening running across town to his friend’s restaurant after his chef passed out drunk. But it is after the interval that the cast really got into their stride as they acted out ‘The Germans’, the most famous of all the Fawlty Towers episodes, in which a concussed Basil tried (and failed) not to insult a group of German guests.
It is Neil Robinson who had the largest shoes to fill, and it is he who stood out most of the cast members, dominating the stage with his movements and facial expressions as well as the delivery of his lines. Nick Jennings (as Manuel) and Claire Bonello (as Polly Sherman) succeeded in capturing the essence of their characters, and Georgia Cassarino managed to make Sybil Fawlty’s laugh even more grating than I remembered it to be. With the help of heavy stage make-up to age his face, Alex Morgan made a convincing and hilarious Major, and despite having few lines to say, Abigail Hooper and Hannah Ryan adopted wonderful old lady walks to play Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs. There were also several supporting cast members who were required to play multiple characters, all of whom performed well and contributed to the humour of the production. There were a few minor slip-ups with lines being fluffed, but these were quickly recovered from, and may not even have been noticeable to those not scrutinising the performance in order to review it.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this production was the set. The Assembly Rooms stage was transformed into a hotel, complete with reception desk, kitchen, dining area and bar, and even a car below the stage in the first act. This did admittedly make the stage feel a little crowded at times, especially when action was taking place in both the kitchen and the dining area simultaneously, but this problem relates more to the size of the stage than anything else.
The tech team had also pulled out all the stops, lowering subtitles from the ceiling for the Germans’ first scene, and creating a remarkably convincing kitchen fire during the second half, complete with smoke wafting into the front rows of the audience. The scene changes were sometimes a little slow and the interval certainly seemed overly long given that the play itself was only an hour long, but hopefully timings will be tightened up in the next performances.
First night hiccups detracted a little from the quality of this production, and the attitude in the box office was slightly frenzied, with no tickets or programmes to give out. But many of these kinks will undoubtedly be ironed out in the next two nights’ showings, and the amount of laughter and applause throughout the evening is testament to how much the audience enjoyed the show despite the problems. Fans of the original Fawlty Towers, and anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned British humour ought not to miss out on this!