There's something strangely alluring about moments when the real world collides with the make-believe. So it’s no wonder that immersive experiences like Karen’s Diner and the Alice Experience at Wonderland Bar, as well as site-specific theatre such as Darkness, are gaining popularity. But it’s something else again to be served dinner while immersed within the scarily familiar scenes of a TV show you’ve watched on repeat throughout your life. Enter, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience. (‘Watched on repeat’ not by choice, I’ll add, but simply because of the sheer number of replays Fawlty Towers had throughout the ’80s and ’90s, after the BBC’s original run in 1975.)
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience (yes, the production is spelt ‘Faulty’, not ‘Fawlty’ like the original TV show) starts as the audience waits to be seated.
The abrasive hotelier Basil (played in this production by Jack Baldwin) asks the hotel restaurant’s waiter, Manuel (played by Sean Harrison) to clear the glasses, so Manuel proceeds to remove the eye glasses from the faces of people in the audience.
A peanut-throwing skit follows, prompting my guest to make the point that he hopes no one in the crowd has a nut allergy (seriously, raise this with the producers before booking! I later found a nut in my bottle of beer). According to the program, 70 per cent of the show is unscripted, so it’s easy to imagine something going horribly wrong. But, of course, this unpredictability is all part of the unnerving magic of a novel evening.
Guests wearing shorts and short sleeves are admonished by Basil for not dressing appropriately for ’fine dining’, before a three-course meal of potato and leek soup, chicken with mushroom sauce and a passionfruit mousse are – idiosyncratically – served. Diners are a little on edge when exploring the food they’re served, expecting to end up with a fly in their soup. But some surprises aside, it is actually a delicious meal.
Sitting at a table with eight strangers felt a bit like being on a Contiki tour with a bunch of (mostly) 60-odd-year-olds, who were in stitches and recounting Fawlty Towers trivia throughout the experience. The younger people scattered throughout the audience also seemed to roll with the (literal) punches. It wouldn’t matter if you’d never seen the original, the chaos is hilarious in its own right.
The accent jokes and gender-based humour are certainly dated now, but Basil’s whip-cracking wife Sybil (played by Monique Lewis-Reynolds) keeps him strictly in line. And there's an element of public justice in being able to collectively boo his appalling behaviour.
This is the perfect theatrical experience for people who don’t enjoy sitting in a traditional theatre – you get to eat, drink, talk and move around throughout the show.
Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is presented by Interactive Theatre International, and has been a hit since its debut in Brisbane all the way back in 1997. It now tours Australia year-round. It's on in Sydney on June 2, 13, 19 and 20, and it will head out to regional NSW from through to June 6, 2023. See locations and purchase tickets here.