Review: Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience (Starvox)

Faulty

Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience is a fun night out for fans of the sitcom at Toronto’s Sony Centre

Forty years after it premiered in 1975, Fawlty Towers remains one of the most important sitcoms ever made, famous for merging slapstick with clever writing, and piling up streams and piles of convolutions in a compact half-hour format.

Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience (that’s “Faulty” with a “U”) extracts three of the characters — the bumptious owner Basil, his shrewish wife Sibyl, and the befuddled waiter Manuel — to serve a genuine three-course meal in the basement of the Sony Centre. As the bread rolls fly, they recreate famous sequences from the show, introduce new material, and improvise with the audience.

The meal is what you’d expect of a catered dinner in the basement of the Sony Centre: mashed potatoes excellent; chicken and vegetables passable. Someone should tell them that Millionaire’s Shortbread doesn’t mean “Costco sheet cake with canned frosting”. There are appetizing vegetarian and vegan options, and the kitchen seemed prepared to accommodate gluten-free, lactose-free, and any allergies or other dietary requirements.

The show, from where I sat, was basically fine — if about ten times larger than it should have been. The cast of three tried to circulate and reach as many people as they could, but with nearly 130 diners and only two-hours-and-a-bit to see everyone, there just isn’t much scope for connection or interaction. The scripted sections (a fire drill; a “forking” incident; the discovery of a lost object; and so on) borrow heavily from the TV series, but ran into the opposite problem: if it were a half-hour show, it would be tremendous fun; stretched out to a two-hours-and-a-bit, there are such lengthy gaps between these two-minute moments that you spend most of the meal amusing yourself. Bring a talkative companion and make the most of it.

The cast, on their own, do very impressive work: Alison Pollard-Mansergh (also credited as Artistic Director) has perfected Sibyl’s screechy vowels and vain mannerisms (and where did she find those alarming — but very appropriate — cosmetics?), and Benedict Holme has mastery over Basil’s stick-insect physicality, all elbows and eyebrows. Leigh Kelly is the most surprising of the three, tapping into a warmth that Andrew Sachs never quite attained in the original series.

Walking home, I was left with three impressions:

  1. If I had a Great Aunt Betty who adored Fawlty Towers, then this would have been the perfect birthday surprise for her. It’s a fun night out, and it’s certainly a unique experience, especially for fans of the show.
  2. I wish people would piss before the show, rather than clanging through the doors every three minutes.
  3. I must go home and watch this on Netflix.

Details

  • Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience plays the Sony Centre (1 Front Street, near Union Station) through April 19th, 2015.
  • Performances are nightly at 7:00 PM, Tuesday to Sunday, with 1:00 PM matinees on Wednesday and weekends.
  • Tickets range from $70 to $163. Price of admission includes a three-course dinner, plus coffee or tea with dessert.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (1-855-872-7669), or in-person from the Sony Centre box office. (Monday to Friday, noon to 5 PM.)
  • Show is selling so well that advance purchase is de-facto required.
  • While the show is appropriate for all ages, people younger than 8 may not find the content to be of interest.

Photograph of Alison Pollard-Mansergh and Leigh Kelly provided by the company. Photo is of an earlier production and does not reflect the current venue or configuration.

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