Fawlty Towers

Date 16th July 2014
Society Westovian Theatre Society
Venue Pier Pavillion, South Shields
Type of Production Play
Director Denver Codling


Author: Gordon Richardson

Fawlty Towers, the successful 1970’s TV series, written and starred in by John Cleese,  actually only aired for 12 episodes. Those 12 episodes, however, were voted by the British Film Institute as the best British television series of all time – a bold claim, but possibly justified as, even forty years on, it has the power to make people laugh out loud, long and hard.

The Westovians brought this iconic series to the stage with three of the most memorable episodes, ‘The Builders’, ‘The Germans’ and ‘The Rat’. Those of a ‘certain age’ will forever associate Andrew Sachs, John Cleese, Connie Booth and Prunella Scales as Manuel, Basil, Polly and Sybil respectively, and audience expectation is understandably going to be high.

Well they needn’t have worried because the Westovian cast shone in a classy production that did credit to the original. Paul Dunn , a self-confessed ‘Basil-phile’,played Basil Fawlty and impressed in the demanding role as the sarcastic, snobbish hotel owner who bitterly resents having to ‘toady’ to his guests who ultimately pay his wages. Paul made the role his own, and had the mannerisms and voice inflections off to a fine art.  Mary Stephenson, as  Sybil, the long suffering wife of Basil, gave a fine interpretation of the role throughout.  The interaction and ‘one-liners’ between the two characters was barbed, and must have led to much humour during rehearsals.

Polly Sherman as the waitress, hotel receptionist, interpreter, peace maker and would-be artist was confidently played by Danielle Miller.  Manuel (his surname was never known) was played by Andrew Sawson in a bumbling pidgin English exaggerated Spanish accent. as the waiter from Barcelona whose on stage interaction with Basil led to much violent slapstick.

These four characters around which the basic premise revolves worked well together and bounced off each other wonderfully, leading to much audience appreciation.  They were ably assisted by regular characters such as the Major (Ron Markwick), Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby (Helen Hillcoat and Carrie Wilson) as well as cameo roles of the Health inspector, Terry the cockney chef and O’Reilly the incompetent Irish builder, many Germans, guests and workmen (and a large Garden Gnome resplendent in union jack waistcoat!!!)

Putting a TV sitcom onto the stage provides many difficulties in staging, going from reception area, to kitchen to dining room to hospital bed but the very versatile set designers and stage crew pulled off this mammoth task with great skill, and the continuity flowed quickly and quietly behind short scenes to cover scene movement.

Well done to all at Westovians for a great night’s entertainment.