It has been off-air for almost 40 years now, but Fawlty Towers still clearly has a huge cult following in Malta. No sooner did an immersive comedy show based on the BBC sitcom announce its debut show in Malta than tickets were snapped up, prompting it to announce three more shows to accommodate the demand.
Interested to see what the fuss was all about and being a huge Fawlty Towers fan myself, I decided to give The Faulty Towers Dining Experience a shot last weekend.
The location for the show was the Sheer Bastion – a high-class venue in a Senglea bastion with beautiful views of the Grand Harbour, quite far removed from the dingy Torquay hotel of the original Fawlty Towers. Some 120 people were gathered in front of a makeshift restaurant, making idle talk and wondering when, and how, the show was going to begin.
And all of a sudden it started. Basil Fawlty, his wife Sybil and Manoel were standing, dressed to perfection, amongst the crowd, and Basil started barking out orders to Manoel to serve peanuts to the guests – which the hapless Spanish waiter, of course, could not get right for the life of him.
Then Basil produced a guest list and started seating the diners around eight tables one by one, occasionally throwing wry remarks their way – including one targeting me for not dressing up as formally as I should have. Why, thanks…
The three-course meal itself was nothing to write home about – risotto as a starter, a slice of really dry chicken with one spoonful of mashed potato, one leaf of cauliflower and another of broccoli as a main course, and strawberries and cream for desert. Then again, the original Fawlty Towers was never exactly fine dining and people didn’t pay €60 for the food.
And that certainly didn’t disappoint. The dinner itself was a two-hour madcap ride as the Fawltys and Manoel (Polly was nowhere to be seen) tried, and often failed, to serve appetisers and three courses to the guests. The characters were true to their original roles – Basil sneering at everyone, Sybil spending her time chatting to the guests and Manoel unable to understand a single command – snatching away guests’ plates, throwing garnish into their glasses of water and, at one point, even standing up on a table and performing some sort of Spanish dance.
A lot of the show was improvised and a lot of it involved the actors getting the diners into embarrassing situations (such as Sybil forcing a guest to sing a song with her) and responding accordingly.
There were several references to the sitcom itself – Basil’s famous Hitler impersonation, Sybil finding out her husband has secretly been betting, Manoel losing a rat in the restaurant, and the chef getting drunk (off stage). No one had the nerve to order a Waldorf salad though.
In an unexpected twist, the actors inserted a few Maltese references into the experience too. When Sybil questioned what a fire extinguisher was doing on a guest’s table (long story), Basil’s response was: “She wanted to know what one looked like. She’s never seen one before…probably Gozitan”.
And, at the end of the show, Basil lost his head and went on a full-on rant against the audience, which included this gem:
“You lot, you’ve already been invaded by practically everyone…you’re nothing but a bunch of tax-dodging ħamalli!”
Final rating: 8.5/10: The show itself was absolutely hilarious, the actors’ improvised in-character responses to guests were spot on, and no cocky guests were allowed to steal the show. For €60 though, the chefs could have put a bit more effort into the food or at least served out free alcohol.