Willingly paying for bad service, delighting in plates crashing to the floor and drinks being spilled, are rather odd concepts. Yet, last night more than forty people happily shelled out over 50 pounds, for an incompetent waiter, a rude manager and his distressingly and witheringly loud wife. Where else could we be, but in a re-incarnation of John Cleese’s classic Fawlty Towers?
Nationally and globally acclaimed, Fawlty Towers – The Dining Experience, has now come to London – to the Torquay Suite of the Charing Cross Hotel. After a short, brisk walk from Embankment Tube, my Cousin and I made our way into the smart establishment just after 7pm. Happy to escape the freeze and pleasantly warmed from the moment we stepped into the foyer, we were shown up a decadent candle-lit staircase and then ushered into the Trafalgar bar, to both remove our thick coats and have some pre-dinner drinks.
Among the first to arrive, we bought a bottle of wine, were handed a mismatched pair of glasses (Fawlty Towers theme creeping in) and set up camp in the corner of the room. A 2012 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, it was one of the worst white wines that I’ve had in a long time. Tepid, sickly and almost glutenous undoubtedly it fell within the confines of a Fawlty Towers appropriate drink and if it had been free then that would have been fine, but paying £22.95 to fight the gag reflex is just not on.
Over the next half an hour the rest of the guests/audience filtered in, aside from a family with teenage children, the average age was about forty-five and mainly couples. At 7.30 pm the bar was in full swing; jovial shouts and laughter engulfed us and an air of excitement spread across the room. We were surrounded by people and three-quarters of the way through our revolting grape-squished-wrong bottle, when we heard him:
Dressed in a over-sized tweed ensemble, Basil Fawlty had entered the room. With a slick black comb-over, receding hair-line (which on closer inspection had been shaved) and a slug-sized moustache, it was as if John Cleese himself had arrived.
“Manuel!” he shouted again, pushing the customers out of the way, in his search for the language-challenged, tiny Spaniard. The interaction between cast and audience had begun.
“Ba-sil!” Sybil had arrived on the scene. “Ba-sil!” The high-pitched wail shuddered across the room and as the two found the cowering Manuel, the laughs started – it wouldn’t be for another two hours until they would stop.
After a healthy dose of pre-supper mis-communication – where Manuel literally took the glasses of visually-impaired rather than the vessels from which one drinks – Basil shouted out the surnames of the guests and told us the number of our allocated tables. Thus, the chaos ensued.
A pair of dentures that had gone walkabout turned up in a woman’s soup, the hunt for Manuel’s rat along with a Matador solo from the Spaniard (on top a a table) evolved around the main course and a vast set of briefs worked as an appetiser for pudding. It really was like, as the team suggest it to be, the 13th episode of the hit comedy.
The repartee between the three was fantastic and their characters utterly convincing. From Basil’s perfect comic violence towards Manuel (which included a fair few head bashing incidents) to his blatant and hyperbolic fear of his ‘Dragon’ Sybil, from Sybil’s endearing and frustrated tone with foreigner Manuel, to her speedy, lengthy and fearsome monologues to Basil, the impersonations of the relationships between the Fawlty management were both eye-wateringly funny and historically apt.
In terms of food, there’s no denying that it was very poor. After the simple yet tasty leek and potato soup starter, things got progressively worse. The main was chicken breast that had clearly been cooked well in advance and then left in a warming oven and was as dry your mouth on a particularly bad hangover. This was served with a hard lump of unseasoned mashed potato, bisto-esque gravy, spinach and over-done green beans – it really was fowl. If this was bad, then the pudding was worse – a vanilla cheesecake, which again had been made well in advance caused the repulsive (and well-known) side-affect of the ‘sodden base syndrome,’ this was topped off with whipped cream out of a can and a lone cranberry.
However, if the food was Michelin star quality, or even just very good, the it would actually be detrimental to the evening. It would detract from why you are actually there and from the play that you have signed up to be a part of. You have signed up for the Fawlty Towers Dining Experience – and great food is not a part of that.
Food is a by-product of the night, a secondary thought, it’s a prop – the night is about Basil, Sybil and Manuel – and with that in mind, you won’t leave disappointed. The only disappointment you’ll feel is when the trio leave and The Dining Experience comes to a close. Willingly paying for bad service, for 120 minutes with these characters, is a phenomenon that I just might get used to!
For tickets go to :http://faultytowers.net/