Fawlty Towers

Date 4th February 2015
Society Cheltenham Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue The Playhouse, Cheltenham
Type of Production Play
Director Nicholas Tobias Assisted: Judi Allan


Author: Frankie Telford

As you entered the Theatre, Mike Barwick’s cleverly designed and well-constructed set took you straight to Fawlty Towers. As someone remarked to me ‘If you didn’t know what Play you were coming to see, there was no doubt once you had seen the set’. It had been designed so that no major set changes were required. The stage had been divided into three clearly defined areas of the office stage right, which was accessed through a door from behind the desk in the centre upstage reception area, with staircase leading from it, and the dining area down stage left with swing doors leading to the kitchen and back entrance. The main Hotel entrance was centre back and a further door leading off downstage right. There were two hinged panels, which opened on either side of the stage giving the bedroom and the kitchen interior. Each area was appropriately lit and the location changes were carried out efficiently in semidarkness, covered by the icon theme tune. Liz White and her team had done a good job with the props, particularly all that food. The wardrobe team had coped admirably with all the costumes especially Sybil’s varied outfits.

The production had been well cast with the ‘permanent characters’ making the most of their roles and bringing each of the well-loved characters to life; whilst other members of the company played a variety of roles bringing individual characterisation to each role they took on. Although it would appear that the actors have an easy task when creating their characters in a play such as this, it is far from easy as there is a certain audience expectation of what they will see; also they have to decide whether to imitate how the characters appeared on television and perhaps fall short of it, or create an original character which is likely to disappoint. In this production the cast trod a middle path, with hints of the television characters but showing us their own interpretation of the role.

To a certain extent Basil, Sybil, Polly, Manuel, the Major, Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby have a slightly easier job than the rest of the cast, as once they have developed their character they continue throughout. Carol Bowman as Sybil had the audience reacting from the start with her ‘laugh’, which everyone immediately recognised. She gave an excellent portrayal as the domineering but more convivial partner, mostly managing to sort out and smooth over all Basil’s rudeness and random acts. Ben Lowater gave an athletic performance as the manically unhinged Basil, a lovely interpretation with good facial expressions and gestures, particularly when trying to convey the name of the horse ‘Dragonfly’ to Polly. Oliver Ryder as Manuel only had to appear and say ‘Que?’ and he had the audiences in fits of laughter. Victoria Worrall as Polly, looked the part and was obviously providing the contrast to Sybil, but for me she softened the character a little too far, as she is a feisty character, and this did not come across. Colin Bennett as Major Gowan, conducted himself in an upright military fashion, and his confusion was well portrayed. Cathy Penney gave a strong performance as the deaf Mrs Richards, but I would have liked to have seen a greater change in her physical appearance when she became Mrs Johnstone. All the other characters were well portrayed showing the adaptability of the actors.

Director Nicholas Tobias ably assisted by Judi Allen had provided an enjoyable evenings entertainment for the very appreciative audience. Well done everyone.