¿Que? Glad you asked! How about dinner served by Manuel, while Basil Fawlty and Cybil add to the inevitable chaos in a perfectly unnecessary manner? While in London for a fun February week, we took in a hilarious homage to the incomparable “Fawlty Towers” band of misfits. Dinner is served – at your own risk – at “Faulty Towers: the Dining Experience”!
A BritCom Best
Fawlty Towers was John Cleese at his comedic best after Monty Python. The BBC sitcom ran from 1975 to 1979 and remains immensely popular, as demonstrated by the many youngsters at our Faulty evening. Written by John Cleese (“Basil Fawlty”) and Connie Booth (“Polly”), the show’s unforgettable characters speak to us now as they did 40 years ago – or in the case of Basil, yell!
The Fawlty Fab Four
Basil is the hopeless hotel owner and hapless husband of Cybil, his telephone-addicted gossiping giggling hen-pecking wife, perfectly played by Prunella Scales. Polly is the perky chambermaid, trying to keep the peace and avoid the all-too-common daily disasters. And of course there’s everyone’s favorite, the endearing endangered “He’s from Barcelona” Spanish waiter Manuel. Manuel speaks broken English at best, is heartwarmingly clueless yet keeps trying to please “Meester Fawlty” despite Basil’s abuse.
Guests shooting the breeze
Recurring guest characters include permanent resident Major Gowen, who takes to shooting rats in the bar (“Vermin! They’re animals, Fawlty!” “Well, yes Major, but, forgive and forget, eh?”), the elderly Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby, the resident and somewhat dotty spinsters who’ve mysteriously taken a shine to Basil, Mr. O’Reilly, the cheap and shortcutting contractor, and shifty Chef Terry, never one to be overly concerned with food safety.
From Fawlty to Faulty
“Faulty Towers The Dining Experience” originated in Brizzie, as Australians call Queensland’s capital Brisbane. It opened to rave reviews and launched in London’s West End some 4 years ago. Scene of the show is the “Torquay Suite” in the Amba Hotel at Charing Cross, easy to reach from anywhere. We booked months in advance, at a very reasonable GBP 59 per person, and our evening was sold out. I’m glad we planned ahead and got in: after all, “no riff raff”, per Basil!
Three’s a crowd
Ruining I mean running the evening are the three main characters Basil, Sybil and Manuel. The program starts in the bar where guests enjoy a pre-event drink. Basil tells Manuel to collect the glasses – which Manuel promptly does, only, by taking them from bespectacled guests’ heads, earning him Basil’s ire.
Roll call risks
Basil then does a roll call and gives guests their table numbers, dishing out a wisecrack or two along the way about looks, outfits and responses. The loathing he put into repeating my “Yo!” was awesome, and my quick correction to “Yo, Sir!” got me a “Well that’s a LITTLE better perhaps”.
The chair man
Once in the dining room, seating mishaps occur at several tables. Basil tries to fix things by pulling chairs away from under guests and Sybil apologizes to them in her uniquely disguised insulting way, finally seating us all, the plan executed without further, um, fault.
Soup & somersaults
Dinner starts with immediate mayhem. Manuel misunderstands “Manuel, do rolls”, meant as “serve bread rolls” and does rolling somersaults on the floor. A tasty soup kicks off what actually turns out to be a good dinner as such – but of course, they run out of soup plates and Manuel gets sent out to get bowls: “¿Que?”
No dessert for you
While this goes on, Basil asks the guests to hurry up already and finish their soup pronto. The main is a nice chicken dish but beware of not finishing your plate: Basil will get in your face if you misbehave! For example, my neighbor did not finish her carrots and Basil promptly threatened to withhold her dessert: “It’s carrot cake, you wouldn’t like it anyway!”
Endearing pet or savage rodent?
While everyone’s more or less served and eating, Manuel proudly presents his pet hamster, to Basil’s horror: “What’s that rat doing here!” “No no meester Fawlty, ees hamster!”. Needless to say, the “hamster” escapes and Manuel dives after him, under the tables (ours!) calling him back: “Baaaasiiiil!”.
Table tangos and silly walks
The show reaches a crescendo with Manuel doing Spanish dances on a guest table and Basil chasing him around the room, getting injured on the head. He leaves the room to get medical attention.
Basil then comes back with a bandage around his head, and starts a “This is typical” rant, followed by deliriously goose-stepping through the dining room. Those legs! Can’t be easy to find actors with those Cleese legs!
Thanks to – or rather, despite – a failed fire drill earlier in the evening, the guests manage to disentangle from the chaos, and escape in one piece. While the original Fawlty Towers theme music plays, we catch our breath and savor the flavor of our hilariously discombobulated dinner evening “organized” by Basil, Sybil and Manuel.
Tribute to a trouper
Homage must be paid here to the recently deceased actor Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel in the original BBC series. Mr. Sachs made Manuel unforgettable, from his eternal blank stare and uncomprehending response to anything with a Spanish “¿que?” to his smirkingly brilliant nudge nudge wink wink of “I know notheeng!” RIP Mr. Sachs, and if your new neighbors up there don’t get it, just tell them you’re from Barcelona.
Book before they’re out of Waldorfs
Should you want to go, I recommend booking as soon as you can. London has a million attractions – I’ll do another blog in the coming months – but for Fawlty Towers fans, “Faulty Towers: the Dining Experience” is an incomparable must, and sells out. This evening will lift your spirits through the roof, location of the Fawlty Towers water tanks: just imagine flying up there while going “oink oink”!
DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no Photoshopping, no promo story in exchange for a freebie: I pay full fare. It’s true travel. Note that the company does not necessarily share my opinions and views. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
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