Review: Fawlty Towers at Riverhead Theatre

Fawlty Towers
Fawlty Towers

On entering the theatre we are introduced to an open stage before settling down for an evening of fun, farce and quintessential British humour.

The theme music composed and performed by Dennis Wilson and a string quartet commences; lights up and we become fully aware of our location - the fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the ‘English Riviera’...Fawlty Towers!

Before I comment on the show and the characters who entertained us tonight I must take time out to mention Chris Winney as set designer and the set building team who have created the hotel true to the television concept whilst making it theatre friendly and maintaining that nostalgic, clearly British, décor from the mid to late 1970’s. Special mention should go to the wonderful wall painting made to look like wallpaper. Thoroughly impressive.

The three episodes on the menu are Communication Problems, Waldorf Salad and the Hotel Inspectors. The tense, rude and put-upon owner Basil Fawlty and his bossy wife Sybil are played by the Indomitable John Hewer and absorbing Cheryl Smith. As you watch their enthralling portrayals you realise you are watching a performance, not a copy of Mr Cleese and Ms Scales, which would be easy to do. With their interaction with the minor characters they present a thoroughly entertaining, high octane performance. Frances Brindle gives another subtle and assured performance as the comparatively normal chambermaid Polly and Andy De Renzi is endearing and re-assuringly delightful as Manuel, the waiter from Barcelona!

It must be highlighted that other wonderful character acting are presented for your viewing – Susan Hewer is outstanding in her portrayal of the deaf Mrs Richards in Communication Problems; Stuart Spendlow, as Mr Hutchison, stands toe to toe in sparring with John Hewer in The Hotel Inspectors as does Derek Smith, playing the uncompromising American Mr Hamilton in Waldorf Salad.

Special mention should go to Nick Kendall who gives a striking and succinct cameo portrayal as The Major and the various guests at the Hotel who add those special moments to the entertainment of the evening.

To take on this daunting challenge of presenting three classic episodes of a much loved TV show on a single set would overwhelm a less experienced and thoughtful Director.

Fortunately we need not worry as this has been directed with panache and style, whilst maintaining movement, flow and spontaneity, by the much loved and experienced Sue Soper. Her warm entertaining direction together with her own comedic insights shines through.

Warty Towels, sorry I mean Fawlty Towers runs through to September 14 (no show on September 8), 7.30pm nightly at The Riverhead Theatre, Victoria Road, Louth LN110BX. Box Office: 01507 600350. Ticket Prices: Adults £7.50, Under 18’s £5.

Review by Ryan Clark; Photograph by Darren Hobson.