Fawlty Towers - Theatre ☆☆☆☆4
Showing from - Monday, February 22, 2016 through till Saturday, February 27, 2016
Nottingham Arts Theatre - Nottingham
Sheridan Halton | Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Encore! Performing Arts certainly don’t take things slow and steady and are clearly not afraid of a challenge.
Following their successful and well received first outing in 2015 with the musical A Chorus Line they jumped straight into their second production: Fawlty Towers. To say that these two productions are ‘diverse’ is putting it mildly!
The production raises a number of challenges, not least the difficulty of transposing the pacing of a television programme to the stage where more fluidity is required in the live action. Graham Buchanan starts each episode at a gentle simmer and builds to boiling point each time with hilarious consequencesThe cross-fades and sharp edits used on film to flit from scene to scene were not available on stage and therefore some careful production, staging and direction was employed to good effect to keep the action bobbing along nicely with the comedy being allowed to shine through. Credit must go to the production team of Ollie Turner (Director), Millie Shawcross (Assistant Director) and Sam Griffiths (Producer) in this regard. Mention should also go to Terry Stevenson for a fantastic multi-area set design and construction.
The show itself comprises of three ‘episodes’ lifted straight from the legendary television series; ‘A Touch of Class’, ‘The Hotel Inspectors’ and ‘Communication Problems’. It is an unusual convention to begin with, having three self-contained episodes comprising a single show. There is not the usual beginning, middle and end of a story, no character arcs, no crisis resolution and redemption. Instead what we get are three little snapshots of life at Basil Fawlty’s infamous hotel, with each episode building in calamity as the stress levels of the ever manic Basil rise to boiling point. Each episode also gives us the opportunity to meet a new batch of ‘characters’ (in every sense of the word) staying at the hotel and this is part of the real charm of the show.
The three respective protagonists from each episode give us three beautifully different and refreshing comedy characters to engage in and give the fixed residents of the hotel something fresh to react to in each episode.
In the first episode we meet the aristocratic Lord Melbury. A nice performance by Martin Briggs as “His Lordship” with the composure and slight bewilderment that nicely contrasted the over the top, sycophant that Basil becomes in this episode. Mention should also go to Jack Readyhoof who played Danny Brown in this episode with great swagger and confidence.
Episode two brings in the unique and opinionated Mr Hutchinson who was played with great comedy skill and expressiveness by Ross Lowe. Also in this episode, taking on the challenging device of the ‘straight role’ was Kathryn McAuley as Mrs Walt, played with nice subtlety and composure.
Episode three heralded the arrival of the indomitable Mrs Richards. This was a characterisation masterclass from Sandy Lane who was every ounce the battle-axe. While small in stature this woman looked like she was built of 100% pure, seething indignation, right from her toes to the end of her tightly bound curls. She never wavered for a second and was truly ferocious to behold! Excellent!!
Fluffy and Giddy
In addition to the characters unique to each episode were the ‘constants’ who inhabited the world of Fawlty Towers on a more permanent basis. Long-time resident Major Gowen was delightfully portrayed by Terry Stevenson who got the absent-minded, faltering old treasure down to a tee and had wonderful comedy timing on his delivery. Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby (Angela Walters and Jenny Carty respectively) added a nice fluffy and giddy backdrop to the action, always winning a smile or two from Basil.
Claire Farrand-Preston gave a very accomplished performance as Basil’s domineering wife Sybil, setting the nonchalant and blasé tone of the character very nicely which pleasantly fuelled Basil’s ever burning fire throughout the performance.
The overworked and under-appreciated waiter Manuel was played beautifully by Adam Guest, never failing to raise smiles from the audience with his ever-hopeful, yet completely baffled persona. The daft grin and slightly gaping mouth gave a wonderful sense of his eternal eagerness to comprehend despite nearly always falling short.
The calm in the middle of the storm, the ever capable Polly was played with charm by Zoe Stebbings. A challenging role, taking on more of the ‘straight’ lines to act as a foil for the more exuberant characters, but very a capable and proficient performance.
But hats off to the hardest working man up on that stage, Graham Buchanan as Basil Fawlty. Hardly ever off the stage, Graham managed to keep up with this very physical and high energy character admirably. He started each episode at a gentle simmer and built to boiling point each time with hilarious consequences. A terrific performance throughout.
Overall, this is an entertaining and highly enjoyable piece of theatre and Encore! Performing Arts can be justly proud of their second outing. They also have forthcoming productions of One Man, Two Guvnors, Singin’ in the Rain and Avenue Q already in the pipeline alongside a fledgling Encore! Choir. Exciting times for local theatre indeed.
This production of Fawlty Towers continues through to Saturday 27th February and is dedicated to the memory of David M Guest, raising money for MacMillan Cancer Trust and the Harvey 2 Cancer Ward at Nottingham City Hospital.
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