Review: Archway’s stage version of Fawlty Towers is simply spot-on

Paul Simmonds and Serena Bravery as Basil and Sybil. Picture by Joy Andrews
Paul Simmonds and Serena Bravery as Basil and Sybil. Picture by Joy Andrews

Fawlty Towers, The Archway Theatre Company, Horley, July 16

Now this is what I call a high-risk production.

Viv Short as Mrs Richards with Tom Robinson as Manuel. Picture by Joy Andrews

Viv Short as Mrs Richards with Tom Robinson as Manuel. Picture by Joy Andrews

There’s a lot that can go wrong in taking a TV show that everyone loves and attempting to stage the thing live with impeccable comic timing and lightning fast dialogue.

So, it’s amazing then that The Archway’s version of Fawlty Towers works so well.

This show presents three episodes of the classic sitcom – Communication Problems, The Hotel Inspectors and The Germans – with an interval in between each one. The two breaks are almost certainly needed, giving the performers time to recharge between each high-energy episode and focus on getting the next one right.

The easiest way to describe this production is to say that it’s simply Fawlty Towers. The set is spot-on, as are the colours, costumes, characters’ mannerisms and punchlines.

It’s astonishing that a show with more than a dozen performers, numerous props and a partly moving stage runs so smoothly, but it does. Okay, the set gets a bit stuck (in between scenes) and some of the lines don’t quite get the laughs they deserve, but it feels like nit-picking to point these things out.

Paul Simmonds, while not as tall as John Cleese, nails Basil’s wild frustration and mood swings, presenting a character to pity, root for and laugh at.

Serena Bravery does a good job mimicking Prunella Scales as Sybil. The voice isn’t totally correct and Serena is quite young for Sybil, but the way she captures the character’s attitude and quirks is impressive.

Tom Robinson is very funny as the clueless Spanish waiter Manuel, pausing for just the right amount of time after someone speaks to him before replying “que?”

Emily Porter also does well as Polly, despite playing one of the show’s more level-headed (and therefore less amusing) characters. Polly’s a maid, so most of the time she calmly does what she’s told. However, she can’t resist occasionally making some great sarcastic remarks, especially when confronting rude guests.

Speaking of rudeness, Viv Short is wonderfully annoying as the stuck-up and stone-deaf Mrs Richards, and her arguments with Basil are cracking.

The only solid criticism I have, I guess, is that the show doesn’t do anything new with the material, so there are few surprises for fans of the series. But would we really want Fawlty Towers to try something new? Isn’t it perfect as it is?

A theatre packed with smiling audience members provides an answer to that question.

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