Monday, 27 March 2017

Faulty Towers the Dining Experience at Amba Hotel Charing Cross


I'm not normally a fan of immersive theatre. I once was 'picked on' with a card trick during a show and I still break out in cold sweat when I go to anything with audience participation and one of the actors locks eyes with me. However, I grew up on brilliant comedy series Fawlty Towers and I love eating out, so despite normally distancing myself of immersive theatre I was very keen to check out the Faulty Towers Dining Experience. And I am so very glad I did, because this is a fantastic combination of a farce, improvisation and a hearty meal in a stunning location.

If you're not familiar with the source material, Fawlty Towers is about hotelier Basil Fawlty (John Cleese in the original series), his wife Sybil, and their staff, particularly waiter Manuel. So far it sounds pretty normal, however with the rather snobbish Basil having a bit of a temperament and the foreign Manuel never understanding what his job is supposed to be, not to mention clumsiness galore from everyone involved, hilariousness always ensues.

Needless to say, the chaotic atmosphere of the hotel and restaurant is perfect to be transported to a real-life location with actors improvising many of the mistakes and insults depending on the guests attending on the night. Produced by Interactive Theatre International, the experience is playing in different locations across the world with two different shows on in London's West End, Amba Hotel Charing Cross and Kingsway Hotel Covent Garden. We opted for the Amba Hotel, because that show starts half an hour earlier and it worked better with our schedule, but it's great that they start at different times, catering to different preferences.

The hotel is very conveniently located, with the entrance just outside the station (on the corner of The Strand and Villiers Street) and beautiful on the inside, decked out in chandeliers, comfy lounge chairs, and lush red carpets all the way up the spiral staircase to the first floor where the show takes place. Guests are invited into Basil's Bar first, where each attendee is assigned a table in the restaurant – with snarky comments from Basil about the names and mishaps from Manuel (particular highlights were the collecting of the glasses and the offering of nuts to guests) throughout.

I don't want to give away too much about the actual experience once we were seated in the restaurant as this show is best enjoyed unspoiled, but I can say we had an absolute blast (even the moments where, yes, we were the butt of the jokes). You certainly don't have to be a Fawlty Towers expert to enjoy the night, but if you are you will recognise many elements of the show throughout that it has been inspired by, from the memorable scene of Manuel's 'hamster' right down to some white lady's bloomers ending up on Basil's head.

The actors we had the pleasure to watch last Friday night were absolutely brilliant; perfectly mimicking the iconic characters and improvising along the way. I was extremely impressed by not only how in character they were throughout the entire hilarious evening, but also by how quick on their feet they were with witty comments and farcical slips and slides that perfectly fitted the guests' reactions to the mishaps and mayhem they put us through.

I don't think there was a cast list up (or if there was I missed it), but looking at the list of actors on the official website I believe we saw Jonathon Saunders as Basil, Oliver Harrison as Manuel, and Imogen Miller Porter as Sybil. While of course we cannot compare them to the other actors, I can't imagine anyone doing the characters more justice than these guys did. They were brilliant.

While the actors and the fabulous show they put on were the undeniable stars of the night, I do want to take a moment to mention the three-course meal that we had the pleasure to enjoy as well (despite everything that happened we did get all the food... eventually). The starter was a bread roll with soup, followed by chicken with vegetables and potatoes (and a very generous helping of gravy), and finally a beautifully layered dessert.

While simple in choice it catered to most people's tastes (and they do take into consideration dietary requirements as well if provided beforehand). The first two courses could've come straight out of Fawlty Towers, lacking a certain grace in their presentation (and, in my case, a spoon for the soup as Basil had snapped it up claiming it was dirty), whereas the dessert after the improvised part of the evening had finished was beautifully plated.

Faulty Towers the Dining Experience was hilarious from start to finish and we loved the uniqueness of enjoying a homely meal while surrounded by the iconic characters we grew up with! The actors were fantastic and I can imagine that no two nights are ever the same, making this the perfect theatrically outing to return to when you're in the mood for some nostalgic, farcical fun and be impressed by some incredible improvisations. Basil Fawlty may not be able to keep his hotel running smoothly, but this show is slick and clicks in all the right places; it is simply 'wunderbar'.




The Faulty Towers Dining Experience can be enjoyed in London both in Charing Cross and Covent Garden (in addition to a UK tour and international shows) and you can find more information on dates and pricing on the official website.




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