first night

Fawlty Towers

Ooook! Productions

It is very difficult to decide what to think of last night’s performance of Fawlty Towers, which took place in the Assembly Rooms. On one hand it was hilarious, and many of the well-known lines were carried off with flair. On the other hand however, I was tempted to think that perhaps most of the production’s merits lay in the script.
The fact is that it is really impossible to fill the shoes of John Cleese. Neil Robinson did a good job and, despite an initial sense of awkwardness in the role, warmed up nicely. His particular strength was in the comedy rants which are characteristic of Basil Fawlty and his carriage and gestures were for the most part successful imitations of Cleese’s own. The character of Polly was also well cast, and Claire Bonello showed confidence in her movement around the stage and interaction with the other characters. Nick Jennings (Manuel) also did well, though his comic timing did not have Andrew Sachs’ impeccability, and though one of his moments was unfortunately spoiled by a door which wouldn’t close. Alex Morgan (The Major) was the most successful imitator of his counterpart in the original series.  In fact, his vocal similarity to the original actor was almost uncanny, and his exchange with Basil about women, Indians and Germans in ‘The Germans’ was one of the slickest scenes in the performance.
The supporting cast, most notably Colonel Hall and Kurt, were strong, far more so than in many student performances. However, by far the most successfully filled role was that of Sybil Fawlty, played by Georgia Cassarino. Relaxed, assured, and clearly comfortable on the stage, she acted one of the most difficult parts (perhaps second only to that of Fawlty himself) extremely convincingly. It was a shame that ‘The Germans’, which comprised the second half of the performance, did not allow her as much involvement as ‘Gourmet Night’ (the first half) or some of the other episodes from the series.
Some may see it as unfair to measure student actors by the standards of the originals. However, the director’s decision to use the same words, gestures, timing, even the same vocal intonation as the TV series makes avoidance of such a comparison impossible. It may also be unreasonable to criticise a production team for following a script, for the majority of drama does so, and besides who could hope to rival the original writing in this case? The problem here was that not the script alone but the interpretation of the original was followed to the letter. Perhaps no other approach was possible: an audience consisting almost entirely of Fawlty Towers fans would probably have been ungenerous towards any attempt at ‘corrupting’ the script, but it was my feeling that the lack of any original input into the performance was a cause for disappointment.
On the whole the staging was well used, and the audience seemed particularly to enjoy the signs which were lowered from the ceiling to indicate changes of scene. Unfortunately, the scene changes themselves were not as efficient as they could have been, and the lighting and incidental music were also rather too slow and were the cause of several uncomfortable pauses. In terms of acting, though, there was very little to be found wanting, and despite my regrets about interpretation the cast gave me an entertaining evening, and are to be applauded for taking on such a challenging task.
* * *
Bertie Gall

22 June 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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