Faulty Towers The Dining Experience serves up madcap malice and slapstick
by Drew Rowsome
As instructed, I positioned the two forks I was handed to mimic bull horns and lunged at Manuel who was enthusiastically executing a matador flamenco facsimile in the middle of our table, narrowly avoiding kicking our food into our laps. I was mocked for requesting a (legitimate) doggy bag, and was pelted with peanuts. A water refill threatened to become a solid soaking. And I got off lightly. Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is a lot of fun.
Fans of Fawlty Towers will get an extra kick out of the proceedings - a duo at our table who were well versed in every episode roared in delight whenever a classic moment was recreated - but it would be difficult for anyone not to be seduced by the slapstick and abundant insults. A general air of madcap malice captures the flavour of the revered television series. Dinner as an escalating farce turns out to be quite appetizing.
Benedict Holme is Basil, our supercilious host who turns nasty at the slightest provocation. A gangly jumble of nerves he races through the confined space and descends into madness at a steady pace. Equally limber is Leigh Kelly as the long-suffering Manuel, who takes an incredible amount of physical abuse while somehow - maybe the perpetual twinkle in his eye? - creating an actually charming Latin lover out of a hapless mess.
On the evening we attended Sybil, the hostess and Basil's wife/nemesis, was played by Alison Pollard-Mansergh whose imperious manner and forceful gait anchored the evening by contrasting with the flailings of Holme and Kelly. Her low comedy highlight was the acknowledgement of birthdays wherein she created ear-splitting hilarity out of predictable material and an apparently necessary dinner theatre albatross.
The perpetual mocking of Manuel's mangled English is painfully politically incorrect 40 years after the original series aired but somehow works. The initial set pieces had many rolling their eyes at the obviousness, but it was all part of a carefully orchestrated intensifying farce. By the time the theatrical component reached its climax, just before dessert was served, even the most cynical theatre snobs had been transported into this zany little world and were weak with laughter.
The real genius of Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is the synergy between the dining and the experience. Our server was startlingly inept, perhaps it is just part of the show. The food was tastier than expected but any flaws - my chicken was perfectly done, my plus one's was scarily dry - are part of the experience and it would be churlish to complain. My poor dog never did get the leftover chicken but he did supply the cast with a gag they gleefully milked. The environment is industrial convention hall but the props are carefully built in for maximum effect with minimal outlay. It became hard to tell what was real and what was illusion, that is what makes it an experience.
The local and topical additions to the improvisation and script were cute but a tirade by Basil about Canadians was vicious, accurate and hilarious. More material of that sort, as well as the more risqué asides by Kelly (again with that damn twinkle) would elevate the evening into the truly memorable. But that would probably risk alienating the families in attendance for real instead of just in fun. As it was the dessert was real treat, Millionaire's Shortbread with a dramatic smear of chocolate and caramel, and everyone left with a smile on their face.
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience continues until Sun, April 26 at the Sony Centre, 1 Front St. sonycentre.ca,