Review: FAWLTY TOWERS THE PLAY, Apollo Theatre

A nostalgic and loyal adaptation of one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms

By: May. 16, 2024
Fawlty Towers - The Play Show Information
Get Show Info Info
Get Tickets from: £13
Review: FAWLTY TOWERS THE PLAY, Apollo Theatre
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.

Existing user? Just click login.

Fawlty Towers - The PlayFor a sitcom that only lasted for 12 episodes, Fawlty Towers left an indelible mark on British comedy. Discourteous hotel owner Basil Fawlty and his shrewish wife Sybil became legends, along with long-suffering chambermaid Polly and hapless waiter Manuel. Previously staged in Australia, this nostalgic and tightly choreographed play is adapted by the series’ original co-writer John Cleese.

The play combines three of the TV episodes and Cleese has chosen The Hotel InspectorsCommunication Problems and The Germans, to create one narrative arc. Cleese was never one to shy away from controversy, but everyone will breathe a sigh of relief that the Major's racial slurs have been removed. The result is a very funny and entertaining evening, one that is remarkably faithful to the original material.

Basil is attempting to be unusually polite to guests following a tip-off that inspectors may be visiting hotels in the area. But his plans are disrupted by a party of German tourists and a particularly challenging guest, the rather hard-of-hearing Mrs Richards.

Fawlty Towers - The Play
Adam Jackson-Smith (Basil), Hemi Yeroham (Manuel)

The cast is superb, landing every joke and intonation expected of them. The performances come off as imitations, rather than any move to bring novelty to the parts. But the audience would leave disappointed if Sybil didn't cackle like a drain on the phone or if Basil didn't jump from obsequious servitude to abject rudeness within the same breath. The show is also a reminder of just how good Cleese and Connie Booth's scripts are.

Adam Jackson-Smith is the reincarnation of Cleese, excelling at the clipped passive aggressiveness and bone-dry asides. His physicality is also pitch-perfect, with Cleese's stiffness and facial expressions down to a tee. Anna-Jane Casey is hilarious as battle-axe Sybil (and why would you not be with a husband like Basil!?), an excellent, but slightly underused Hemi Yeroham reminds us why Andrew Sachs was a national treasure and Victoria Fox captures the dulcet intonations of Connie Booth brilliantly.

The rest of the cast is equally strong. Rachel Izen really chews the scenery as the hard-of-hearing Mrs Richards, Paul Nicholas is a delight as the bumbling Major and Steven Meo almost bursts a blood vessel as charmed, then abused guest Mr Hutchinson.

Fawlty Towers - The Play
Adam Jackson-Smith (Basil), Victoria Fox (Polly)

Director Caroline Jay Ranger has form with odes to TV of the past, having previously worked on Only Fools and Horses: The Musical. She maintains the theatrical farce and slapstick of the show beautifully and the pace doesn't dip. The second half, featuring the Germans, is less successful; removing Basil's trip to the hospital takes away the some of the reasoning behind his mania and the story doesn't land quite as perfectly as in the first half.

Liz Ascroft’s set and costume design is wonderful; from the coiffing of Sybil’s extravagant hair, to the wallpaper in the hotel reception, to Basil’s string vest. There is a lot packed onto the stage, but she even manages to squeeze in the famous hotel signage, which changes very satisfyingly after the interval.

The intention is, of course, to make the audience laugh, but there is also a connection to a nostalgia for anyone who has watched and loved these programmes. Many members of the audience anticipate every punch line and laugh all the harder for it. Despite some overtly problematic language in the original broadcasts (mostly from The Major), there was always a knowingness that we were laughing at the hapless Basil and never with him.

If you loved the original TV series, you will adore the this show. If you are a newcomer, you can still appreciate the incredibly deft comic timing and old-fashioned and very British entertainment.

Fawlty Towers The Play is booking at the Apollo Theatre until 28 September

Photo Credits: Hugo Glendinning


To post a comment, you must register and login.

Vote Sponsor