By John Cleese and Connie Booth
30 June - 5 July, 2014
The scene: Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the “English Riviera”. The plot centres around hotel owner Basil Fawlty who is a snobbish and miserly misanthrope who is desperate to belong to a higher social class, and his bossy wife Sybil who spends a lot of time on the phone, a comparatively normal chambermaid, Polly who is the voice of sanity during chaotic moments, and hapless waiter, Manuel, who is a well-meaning but disorganised and confused Spaniard from Barcelona.
The guests at the hotel each provide a different characteristic that Basil cannot stand, but of course, as proprietor of the hotel he unfortunately has to speak to them.
The play focuses on the exploits and misadventures of Basil, involving coincidences, misunderstandings, cross-purposes and meetings both missed and accidental. The events test what little patience Basil has to breaking point.
In a word: hilarious!
When I was asked to direct Fawlty Towers I have to say that I was rather daunted. In the past the plays I have directed have always been challenging, trying to work out the meaning and interpretation of the author’s script, getting the characterisation right, the moves, the effects etc.
You could be excused for thinking that with this production I should have had it easy. Every little piece of dialogue, every gesture and mannerism, every joke and effect is clearly set down and is well known by millions.
That is precisely why I was daunted. Transferring television sitcom to the stage is never easy. On TV they have the advantage of large, intricate sets, multiple camera angles and shots providing seamless scene changes and the ability to concentrate solely upon the current action without wondering what to do with the other actors on stage and of course they don’t always work in real time, able to stop and start as required. So, getting the action to flow smoothly between one comic gag and the next is difficult. But perhaps the biggest challenge is that, unlike many plays that can have many different interpretations by both director and cast, audiences will have a very clear expectation of what a successful sitcom on stage should be like and the more successful the sitcom the greater the expectation. Fawlty Towers is arguably the most iconic and successful sitcom of all time and I am very much aware that many of the audience members will be as word perfect as the cast and will probably have their own Basil, Sybil, Manuel or Polly impression or party piece. It is very likely that I will have never had such a critical audience before.
But if I feel the pressure of directing, then how much harder must it be for the cast. The characters are national treasures and not to do them anything but 100% justice could be classed as treasonous. Thankfully I have a wonderful team who have been working for weeks to try and get it just right. I am sure they will succeed and I am hugely grateful to them. My thanks go also to all the backstage crew who have worked so hard to achieve a faithful reproduction of the original. The set design has been brilliant given the limited space and the efforts of workshop, wardrobes, props et al have been superb.
So, I hope you sit back and enjoy the evening and that our production of Fawlty Towers is what you hoped it would be and is a fun ending to another great season here at Bingley.