Tonight I have had the pleasure of meeting Andy Foreman, the original Manuel from the original cast of Faulty Towers The Dining Experience – an exciting opportunity for me, Becky Glockner, as the newest member of the marketing team at Interactive Theatre International. As we overlook the stunning views of London’s South Bank from our impressive West End residency at Amba Hotel Charing Cross, I’m laughing within minutes, and can see the audience-charming Manuel in Andy straight away….
When I ask Andy how he got into acting, he modestly claims that he wasn’t any good at anything else. ‘The first time I stepped up onto the stage was during a family trip to Hyde Park when I was about nine years old. There was a talent contest being held – I sang ‘Consider Yourself’ from Oliver, surprised both my family and myself, and won it. That was the first time I went, ‘Hey, I’m good at this.’
‘When I was 15 my parents allowed me to go to stage school at Italia Conti Academy in London. Imagine a school that encourages you to dance on the tables – that place saved my life. The school had its own agency, so as soon as I started there I was doing professional work.’
I ask how he got involved with the show in the first place: ‘When I was 18 my family moved back to Australia. I moved to Brisbane to do street theatre and improvisation with a company called Theatre Sports. Meanwhile, Alison Pollard-Mansergh, founder of Interactive Theatre International, was contacting Theatre Sports looking for a tall guy and a short guy to play Basil and Manuel respectively. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, with the right background in interactive theatre and a good knowledge of the BBC show – Fawlty Towers had been at the height of its success on the BBC while I was a teenager.’
I wonder how the show has developed since it first started: ‘The show started off without a script. We each had our own business to do during the evening, and a natural sequence would occur throughout the night, but nothing was scripted.’ Andy describes how as the show grew in success over the years, it also grew in duration, as he and Alison began to script the show together. Andy has had the privilege of continuing to add to the script for years since and today is the company’s writer-in-residence: ‘I’m very proud’, he says, smiling. ‘It’s the best form of immersive theatre that I’ve seen. The audience don’t have to be anything but themselves coming to a restaurant for dinner.’
He tells me that he has worked with approximately 15 different Basils, which makes me wonder whether his performance differs depending on who he’s acting with. ‘Yes!’, he says. ‘If I’ve got a run-around crazy Basil then I’ll tone down Manuel, and vice versa’.
I ask Andy if he has a process for getting into character for Manuel, though I assume it’s as easy as riding a bike after all these years. ‘I have a recording of one particular scene which I always look at – the scene where Basil is trying to tell Manuel to keep his bet on the horses a secret.’
And what’s his favourite part of the show? ‘It’s not always done, because the scene has to have reached the right moment in the lead up to it – when Manuel announces that his pet rat is alive, Basil pretends to be ecstatic too, and occasionally they will dance through the audience together like this’ (Andy does a delightful impression). ‘It’s a lovely moment, and if the moment is right I’ll throw in one of my favourite Morcambe and Wise movements. I can hear the response in the audience from those who recognise it.’
It’s fantastic to see the excitement in Andy’s face as he describes how Faulty Towers has transformed from a tiny show in Brisbane into the West End success that it is today, in what he calls ‘the perfect venue’ at Amba Hotel Charing Cross. For now, he’s heading home to Brisbane where he also works as a Clown Doctor in a children’s hospital, but we will continue to see him play Manuel across the world for years to come. I ask him before he leaves what he would say if he were to meet Andrew Sachs, an opportunity which some of our other cast members have already had: ‘Thank you for making all this possible!’