Most of you would have heard of the old television series, Fawlty Towers.
For those that have not, Fawlty Towers stars John Cleese as passionate yet highly unstable hotel owner, Basil Fawlty. The series aired on the BBC in the United Kingdom back in 1975 with a second season in 1979. The 12-episode series follows Basil Fawlty and the daily operation of the hotel, accompanied by his wife and co-owner Sybil Fawlty, who seems to be the only one holding the place together. Then, there is Manuel, the hotel waiter. Manuel is a Spanish immigrant with a language barrier that makes for hilarious viewing as he misinterprets the instructions from Mr. Fawlty.
So, what does all of this have to do with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival? Well, I am glad you asked! Hosted at the Stamford Plaza Melbourne, Faulty Towers the Dining Experience is an immersive, interactive theatre performance where you can enjoy a three-course meal whilst three performers provide the chaotic entertainment, as if you are visiting Fawlty Towers yourselves.
We arrived at about 6:30pm for a 7pm performance and the three cast were already in full character. Each of which resembled an uncanny likeness to their original counterparts. Jamie Burgess as Basil Fawlty not only looks a lot like John Cleese, but he also sounds exactly like the character; obnoxiously loud, very direct and unashamedly offensive. Just watch a few YouTube clips of the TV show and you will understand what I mean. Rebecca Fortuna as Sybil Fawlty with her high-pitched voice and commanding stare tries to take control as chaos unfolds around us. And of course, Luke Alleva as Manuel, the waiter that is easily confused by the instructions given to him by Mr. Fawlty, often taking the commands literally. For example, when given a basket of bread to distribute, Basil requests that he ‘put the bread on the table’ and that is exactly what Manuel does. He places the basket of bread, on the table.
This show has been around for quite some time. Having begun in Brisbane way back in 1997 the show has travelled the world and even has a residency in London’s West End. There is a basic plot that is followed throughout the evening with the rest of the performance being completely improvised. This leads to many unexpected and chaotically hilarious moments. I even got pulled up at one point because Basil was angry at Manuel, explaining that “you were hired to…” and was cut off by Manuel responding with “Si si, you sir, stand up, please. See, he is very high…” gesturing to my height and even making a joke about my shirt resembling pyjamas. As Basil and Manuel continued to argue, Sybil enters the room screaming to them to stop and to let the “tall, bearded, pyjama boy sit down”. This is just one example of the hilarity that is carried out the entire evening. Every single table received some love from the performers. And, in a room of about 100 guests, I was very impressed with how well they interacted with and recalled upon different patrons as the night progressed.
You almost forget that you are indeed at a restaurant and there is food to be had. Dinner is a set menu three course meal that considers any dietary requirements you might have. On tonight’s menu at Stamford Plaza Melbourne was a Roast Vine Ripe Tomato, garlic and basic soup for entrée. Main course was a Twice cooked Lilydale Chicken with a potato puree, sundried tomato and sweet corn salsa, with a replacement vegetarian and fish dish for those that requested. As the mains were being served, Manuel entered the dining room with a large plate of veggies, shouting out “Who is the veg?”. Even the meals formed part of the act! And of course, a dessert of Baked Cheesecake with a Berry Compote and Tea & Coffee afterwards. All three dishes were absolutely delicious and could not be faulted one bit. Even my ‘no onion’ requirement was divine, and I was completely full by the time tea & coffee were served.
From the time we arrived to the time we left, it was all up about two and a half hours of fantastic entertainment and delicious food. There was not a single moment where the three performers broke character. Even as they are walking the hallway outside of the function space they were in full character. And, as the night progressed the chaotic energy increased until it reaches boiling point just before desserts are served. Just like in the television show, it is Sybil that has had enough of the ideocracy and incompetence from Basil that is a classic display of physical slapstick comedy which I have not seen for quite some time. Once the show had finished and received a well-deserved loud applause was made by the guests, Jamie Burgess and Luke Alleva returned to the room to chat with the crowd, thanking those members of the audience that helped make the show what it was.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed at the quality of performance and high accuracy of the characters. For those that know the show, there are even references to Basil hiding his gambling from his wife, Sybil’s work with maintenance contractor Stubbs and even Manuel’s pet rat, just to name a few. The flawless performances in conjunction with the fabulous food definitely made for a night to remember.
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is, for me, the highlight of the festival so far, and one that I am incredibly thankful to have witnessed. I can easily see this show becoming an annual event on my Melbourne International Comedy Festival calendar.
There are performances this week at Stamford Plaza Melbourne from Tuesday through to the final show on Sunday 17th April 2022. Prices do vary depending on the day you choose, with each table seating up to 10. So, grab your mates, your significant other, or treat your friend for their birthday. This is one show you do not want to miss!
For more information on Faulty Towers The Dining Experience and ticketing, visit: