You might have read in the news recently that John Cleese is considering suing a theatrical dining experience based around his classic sitcom, Fawlty Towers. This of course meant I had to go and check it out for myself.
Well, to be honest, I’d booked the tickets long ago. A birthday treat for OJ, it seemed like a fun evening out, and an easy way to get a show and a meal in the same place. Anyway, long story short, I went there last night.
Currently based in the Charring Cross Amba Hotel, the Faulty Towers Dining Experience is basically everything you remember from the BBC sitcom condensed into a two-hour sit down meal, with little-or-not effort made to make it at all different from the real thing.
Last October I went to a Twin Peaks-based dining experience for my birthday. For that, they at least made an effort to be somewhat original, changing the characters names and such. They even renamed the town of “Twin Peaks” to “Double Pineview” (geddit?). Faulty Towers however, literally just changed the ‘w’ in Fawlty to a ‘u’, not only failing to be distinguishable to any reasonable person, but also losing the clever wordplay of the original in the first place. And apparently that’s all you need to do in order to get away with not paying the original creator any monies?
LEGAL NOTICE: I am not a lawyer and have no understanding of how copyright stuff works. My opinions are just my opinions.
All the characters are called the same too. There’s three of them, Basil, Manuel, and Mrs Faulty (I guess Polly didn’t make the cut), and they are just carbon copies of the originals.
Well, close enough anyway. All credit to the actors, they do a fine job of channeling the performances of Cleese, Sachs, and Scales. But it’s all just too familiar.
Expect to see beat-for-beat recreations of all the ‘best bits’ of Fawlty Towers. Basil trying to get Manuel to place a bet on a horse, a floundering attempt at doing a fire drill, and – yes – the inevitable build-up to that German scene.
It’s interesting that photos are encouraged, but taking video isn’t. We were even politely reminded halfway through our meal of this fact. I guess that the fact that lawsuits are hanging in the air means that the cast don’t want any footage circulating of just how similar the show is to the original. A picture can’t show what lines are being repeated verbatim, after all. So I can really only offer my anecdotal opinion, and say that I think John Cleese has a fair point and there’s a good case that he’s being ripped off.
What about the food itself? Well, it’s a mere prop to the show really. Stale bread rolls are thrown across the room with reckless abandon. Soup arrives late and of inconsistent volume. The main is an uninspired chicken supreme that is anything but. Not even a Waldorf Salad in sight.
Compare to the Twin Peaks dining experience I went to, where the food was original and memorable. A mushroom soup served in a coffee cup, and so on. And considering the price of Faulty Towers (£60 a pop), I kind of expected better. The whole thing being a deliberate shambles is one thing, but it doesn’t really excuse low quality.
And overall the Twin Peaks thing was a more immersive experience. You were given a character, and you got involved. With Faulty Towers, you’re more of a passive observer of the evening. Aside from being called a pervert by Basil, and Manuel saying I looked like a rat, there wasn’t much for me to do.
On the plus side, the physical comedy and make-believe violence breaks up the evening and is pretty convincing.
Maybe the evening just wasn’t for me though. The main demographic of the audience was couples in their 50s. An aging, white audience who are more than happy to laugh along with tired stereotypes and thinly-veiled xenophobia. Basil mocking any audience members for being even a little foreign is particularly problematic as you know he’s ad-libbing. I mean, he’s making up racist comments to say on the spot. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
And even the rest of the material can’t help but feel a little dated. A lot of the jokes, especially early on, follow the same format.
BASIL: Manuel! Please do [x]
MANUEL: X? Ok, I do [x]!
MANUEL PROCEEDS TO DO THE LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF X THAT IS CLEARLY NOT WHAT BASIL INTENDED
BASIL: What on EARTH are you doing?!
MANUEL: You said to do [x]!
BASIL: Not [X], you idiot! [X] like this….
Where [X] is something like ‘collect everyone’s glasses’ or ‘rolls on the plates.’
I think I’d have preferred it if it had been a more intimate experience, with a fresh script. I know everyone there just wants to see their favourite scenes, but it doesn’t do the show any favours. Several classic lines are built up far too much and receive a round of applause afterwards everytime – which just feels so cynical to me.
How about a dining experience with the same characters, but Basil’s had to sell the hotel and is now running a B&B in Dover, or something? Bring it up to date a bit. Manuel’s got a son now, and Polly has a screaming baby. You can keep all the dynamics and stupid jokes that people love, without having to recreate things exactly or cross the line on copyright.
So, go and see the show if you’re after an interesting night out with someone who’s an UBER Fawlty Towers fan. They’ll probably love it. And despite what I’ve said, I did have a good time. I just found it problematic in places and a bit of a let down in others.
Oh, and bring cash. You have to pay for all your drinks 🙁