’Faulty Towers The Dining Experience' is the premier homage to the classic programme of the same name, an immersive dining experience of comedy, improv, food and a lot of laughs – and it’s coming back to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Though actor John Cleese’s performance as the eccentric hotel owner Basil Fawlty is iconic, his character wouldn’t have been what it was without the contrasting eccentricities of his wife, Sybil Fawlty, played in the original programme by actress Prunella Scales.
Reprising the role of the sometimes coarse and snobbish Sybil for 'The Dining Experience' is Rebecca Fortuna. To play the role successfully, Rebecca says she can see some of Sybil in herself. “She’s got a lot to deal with!” Rebecca says reasonably. “She might come across as bossy but when you’re dealing with Basil and Manuel, it’s not easy.
“Because I’ve done the show for a long run, Sybil tends to slip in at home. To my partner, I’ll be like, ‘Okay I need you to do this, and I need you to do that’, and he’ll say, ‘Okay, Sybil!’
“I definitely like to be in control and have things in order, so Sybil and I definitely have that in common.”
'The Dining Experience' features all-new scripts but retains that classic 'Fawlty Towers' hilarity. In trying to emulate the spirit of the original show into this modern immersive experience presents challenges for the cast. “I think they are, all of them, such iconic characters.
“The people who come to the Experience are big fans of the show and I guess there’s a really high standard expected of it and as a performer, wanting to do it justice is the hardest thing.”
For the cast members, having a quick wit is important. “I’ve got to be ready to be in her character because the audience will constantly try and trip you up – I always give it back to them!
“The thing about Sybil is I can give them [the audience] a backhanded compliment and a smile and they think it’s hilarious! You have to be ready for anything!”
As part of the Comedy Festival, 'The Dining Experience' will take place across ten days. Much of the original series that this immersive experience stems from, as many will know, deals with a great element of slapstick. For the cast, they are very much thinking on their feet, packing in an element of improvisation. “There are big improvised sections which is when we’re working off each other and also working with the audience,” Rebecca says.
“It’s normally 70/30 or 60/40 of scripted to improvised content so there’s definitely that element of surprise to the show!”
'Faulty Towers The Dining Experience' is fast approaching 25 years performing worldwide across 40 countries – an incredible achievement. So, what is it Rebecca thinks it is about not only the 'Dining Experience' and its theatrical platform, but the original show – and it having given birth to this whole concept – that has this longevity? “I think the original show, and our show as a result of that, it’s timeless. It’s not specific to an era, it’s about a complicated, heightened relationship between Basil and Sybil, a relationship which everyone can relate to.
“It’s the pure joy that it brings. It’s simple comedy but it’s so well written that it holds up even today – it’s just a joy. People are in stitches laughing!
“The biggest compliment we get at the end of the show is, ‘I haven’t laughed like that in such a long time!’” ’Faulty Towers The Dining Experience' plays The Duke Of Wellington Hotel (Melbourne International Comedy Festival) 8-18 April.