– by Caitlin Page
Twenty years old this year, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience today sure looks different from its early performances. The show that was conceived in Australia in 1997 and developed there over several years, is today touring around 20 countries a year – and this month it celebrates the 5th year of a residency in London’s West End… what we call ‘Basil’s Birthday’.
This birthday celebrates 26 October 2012, the opening night of our London residency. At that time we were in Amba Hotel Charing Cross, but we took overflow to other hotels close by and earlier this year moved to Kingsway Hall in Covent Garden. The 5-star reviews and sell-out shows we enjoyed back in 2012 continue to this day, and we’re still attracting audiences from far and wide. So we thought a little journey back down memory lane might be the perfect way to celebrate…
ACT ONE: A NEW DAWN
Moving to a new country with a new idea, Alison Pollard (now Alison Pollard-Mansergh) travelled to Australia from her home in New Zealand with an idea to create a tribute show for the BBC’s Fawlty Towers. With this new show concept born of a desire to create her own work in the theatre world, Ali met Andy Foreman and in 1997 the two of them worked on carving a new show into existence: Faulty Towers The Dining Experience.
Initially, Ali had a vision to see the show go to some of Australia’s biggest festivals. Over the years, the show grew from the seed of an idea to a thriving plant, keeping similar form but developing content – allowing each new show to inform changes. Steadily growing, in 2007 it appeared at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival: the show sold out to great applause from critics, the public and performers from other festival shows alike – and Ali was encouraged to take this new show to Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
2008 saw the team heading to both Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Adelaide Fringe Festival to get as much festival practice in as possible before jetting off to Edinburgh…
ACT TWO: THE VOYAGE
And thus, in 2008, the show went international! Appearing at the world’s biggest festival for the performing arts, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the team of three performed 42 shows – and Ali handled all the marketing and admin.
It was a stunning success, and Edinburgh led to new touring opportunities – in Hong Kong, around the UK, and in Ireland and the Netherlands. Since then, it has toured in Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, the Caribbean, Asia, Kenya… the list is expanding constantly.
Some 20+ countries later and Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is still seeing growing success all across the world. Not bad for a tribute to a 12-episode series! Now there are places such as Iceland, Antigua, Cyprus, Kenya, Canada and the Philippines to add to the list… and believe me when I say that is just the beginning.
ACT THREE: LONDON CALLING
Skip back to the October of 2009, when Faulty Towers The Dining Experience played its first ever performance in London: a weekend in Covent Garden that was packed solid. The next two years saw sold out summer seasons of six weeks. Then, in 2012, the show opened its London West End residency at Charing Cross Hotel (now Amba Hotel Charing Cross). Its London performances became a fixture of the theatre calendar.
In 2015 the show lived a London dream playing at the Royal Albert Hall to a sell-out crowd. 2015 also marked the new relationship with a new venue – Covent Garden’s Kingsway Hall Hotel. We’re still playing there today, with six shows a week!
London is now something of a cornerstone for the show, helping it become renowned for wit and quality. Regular London shows are a thing to celebrate, having had many a cast perform over the years to some notable guests including Fawlty Tower’s very own Andrew Sachs, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, various BBC producers, and Joe Cole – who went away with this charming story as told by one of our Sybils, Donna Gray:
“When Joe Cole was in he had his arm in plaster – I asked him how he did it? He said ‘playing football’ (I didn’t know he was a famous footy player). I said: ‘don’t you play football with your feet?’ He said: ‘I was in goal’. I said: ‘what were you playing with, a medicine ball? Maybe you should think about taking up a new hobby’.
When I went back into the kitchen, Rob (the Basil) said: ‘did you know that is Joe Cole who plays for West Ham!’”
ACT FOUR: WHERE WE ARE NOW
Looking back at our past gives us a chance to see where it is going. A strong company now with a dedicated box office and customer service team answering questions for shows around the world, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is well and truly in its element.
Some of Ali’s original gags still live on in the show, but it continues to develop each year – especially taking influence from the many talented comedy performers who work for the show and travel around the world to share it.
Even with all its success, the company ITI – and Faulty – is still very much a family business. Ali adds:
“I thought the idea of an interactive show inspired by Fawlty Towers was good, but I had no idea that it would be touring the world 20 years later with over 30 cast members. My husband’s involved as general manager of our production company, and now one of my sons is too, as UK business development manager. So we’re effectively a family business from Brisbane that produces the world’s leading Fawlty Towers tribute show!”
With so much notable success and the 5th year under our belts performing shows in central London, the whole team decided to take a break from all the hurried Christmas preparations to get the balloons out and the party hats on, ready to celebrate the best birthday of all: Basil’s Birthday!