Wednesday 15 May 2024

Fawlty Towers - The Play - Review

Apollo Theatre, London


Written by John Cleese
Based on the TV series Fawlty Towers written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger

The cast of Fawlty Towers - The Play

Written for television some 50 years ago and almost immediately entering the pantheon of comedy, Fawlty Towers was a work of scriptwriting genius by John Cleese and his (then) wife Connie Booth. 

Cleese himself has now adapted three of the (only 12) original TV episodes into a tightly paced show that runs for two hours including interval. The adaptation itself is a work of art, Cleese fusing those famous plotlines and gags into an ingenious confection designed to appeal to both fans and newcomers alike.

Of course the writing credentials of Fawlty Towers The Play were never in doubt. The challenge was always going to lie in the effectiveness of the on-stage resurrections of the beleaguered hotel’s iconically comic characters.

Anna-Jane Casey and Adam Jackson-Smith

Simply put, director Caroline Jay Ranger’s cast are sensational. Adam Jackson-Smith is the lugubrious hotelier Basil Fawlty, a role that many may have considered unplayable. In an immaculate combination of voice, nuance and sublime physical comedy, Jackson-Smith nails the performance with far greater skill than he manages to fix a moose’s head to a hotel wall. 

Alongside him, Anna-Jane Casey takes on the mantle of Sybil Fawlty, the other half of one of comedy’s most celebrated loveless marriages. Casey’s tone is magnificent and as the evening plays out, her portrayal of a woman who is as equally monstrous as her husband, only becomes more acid. Hemi Yeroham takes up the role of the much put-upon Manuel, the hotel’s Spanish waiter with Victoria Fox playing the maid Polly. Both recreate their characters to a tee.

But aside from those big four rocks of the Fawlty Towers series, what pushes this stage show into the stratosphere of excellence is the inspired casting of the supporting roles. It’s a breath of fresh air in these politically-correct times that Paul Nicholas’s interpretation of The Major, clearly suffering with the onset of dementia, is given such a beautifully weighted and perfectly pitched performance. Equally, Rachel Izen’s hard of hearing and cantankerous Mrs Richards (“What?”) is another comedy gem.

Paul Nicholas

Creative credits are due to Liz Ascroft’s set that cleverly captures the essence of the Torquay original, along with Kate Waters’ fight direction that has the physical slapstick honed to perfection. And Campbell Young Associates’ wig design for Sybil deserves its own Olivier Award just for looking so bloody brilliant!

This critic sat down with scepticism and left the theatre with eyes and cheeks wet from laughter. Quality comedy demands a holy trinity of first-class writing, acting genius and pinpoint timing. Fawlty Towers has all three - it’s the funniest show in town.

Runs until September 28th
Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

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