The Seagull Rep
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Thursday 6th September 2012
Another classic TV sitcom makes its way to the stage, as the hugely popular Fawlty Towers hits theatres on this UK tour. As can be the case with sitcoms like this, there are no stage adaptations available, so it is up to the Director to interpret the scripts and tackle the issues of staging a live action version themselves.
Audiences knowledge of, and affection for, the televised cast will inevitably drive expectations for an impersonation of the iconic characters, rather than an actor's own interpretation. Nick Murray Brown's Basil contained all of the pent up frustration and stinging sarcasm required for the part, and the thrashing of his car in "Gormet Night" was worthy of the anticipation that had built up to it after the reveal of the set piece at the interval. Alison Collinge was a calm, sweet Polly and Will Isgrove won the audience over with his lovable Manuel. It was Agnes Lillis' Sybil however that was an incredible impression, with every sound, gesture and move pitched absolutely right.
The element that held back this production was the decision to recreate each visual element so loyally to the studio set we all know from on screen. Although the set was well built and looked convincing, the lengthy scene changes spoilt the flow the actors were trying to build. Smaller, separately lit rooms that could be re-set while the action continued elsewhere, or simply more innovative covers for the changes would have helped the evening meld together. Some truly bizarre ideas had been conceived to detract from the lengthy scene changes, including language lessons from Manuel and Polly scribbling a portrait of a gentleman in the front row, some of which actually went on longer than the change itself - a quick blackout would have worked better.
That said, The Seagull Rep have chosen three excellent episodes of this much loved show that could not fail to entertain a receptive audience of Fawlty fans.