Interview: Rob Langston on John Cleese and the goose-step

Also at Adelaide Fringe this year, appearing alongside Rebecca Fortuna and Anthony Sottile, Rob Langston reprises his role of Basil in Faulty Towers the Dining Experience. 

Before Rob was crowned ‘the perfect Basil’ by his fans, he graduated from Drama Studio London. He has won plaudits as Basil all over the world – from Thailand to Barbados and more besides.  

Read on as he discusses John Cleese, flexibility, and dealing with the unexpected.  

J: You’ve been taking on Basil Faulty for what can’t be far from a decade! Do you remember your first show? 

R: It’s been eight years since I started performing in Faulty Towers. I do remember my first show – it was at Heathrow Airport in the UK. Well, it was a corporate hotel next to Heathrow Airport. I remember being very nervous. It actually went quite well, but it was quite an experience! 

It was a friendly crowd that day, because artistic director Alison Pollard-Mansergh was there along with a couple other actors from the show. So it was a nice start from the jump and a wonderful experience. 

J: Mr. Faulty himself is such an infamous personality. What did you find to be the most difficult for your first few Basils? 

R: The physicality was very difficult at first. Some things like the goose-step were really hard to master. You need a lot of flexibility in your legs, and I’m really not that flexible naturally. I’m dyspraxic as well, so learning new movements can be quite challenging for me. The unpredictability of performance took some getting used to – like getting dealing with unexpected questions and answering as Basil the whole time. 

J: Basil’s relationship with Sybil and Manuel are quite contrasting. How do you interact with each of them to keep true to the character?  

R: Sybil and Manuel are definitely very different. The experience I have with Manuel is more physical and bullying, so I work on the choreography a lot with the actor to be able to do it well. Mentally as well it’s about the status thing – the idea that I’m at a higher status than Manuel because I’m his boss. So dealing with that does take a lot of getting used to, considering in real life we’re all friends.  

With Sybil, it deals more with the idea of marriage. The common misconception is that they hate each other, but they don’t. They do love each other very much, they just share a lot of frustration. And it’s a status thing again because he’s quite scared of Sybil. So I approach it that I have a lot of fear for this person, but I also love her. Finding a balance between the two in that relationship is what I try to do. Also, different actors bring different things to the roles so it’s nice to play on that. 

J: You’ve got a bit of a cult following out there saying you’re the ‘perfect Basil!’ How do you approach your Basil whilst being dealt a completely original script?  

R: Well that’s very kind of people to say! To start with, it’s all about watching Basil in every BBC episode and seeing what he does. I keep watching the show continually to keep it fresh in my head and find new things to play on.

I’ve also just watched a lot of John Cleese, because a lot of his own character is in Basil. So even watching other films like Clockwise and A Fish Called Wanda has really helped me to get into character.  

This all helps dealing with the things that didn’t happen within the series, or things in the modern world that I can still grapple with.  

J: As a Londoner, you’ve spent a lot of time in Australia over the years. Are there differences between Australian and UK audiences? 

R: Well in many ways they’re very similar, but each audience that comes to the show is different. That said, Australian audiences are a little less scared of Basil. I think in the UK people have a lot of respect and fear for authority. And although Basil isn’t really authority, he has a schoolmaster-like vibe about him.  

I think in Australia there’s less fear of that. There might be a little less of a class system in that respect. So people are a bit more cheeky in Australia I think. They’re also very good at listening – not that the UK aren’t, but they’re very keen to hear what’s going on right from the start of the show. But on the whole, they’re not totally dissimilar to be honest.  

J: Any highlights from travelling the world? 

R: Yes, we’ve toured around the world loads. I’ve got so many highlights from the places we’ve been able to perform. Sydney Opera House, for example, is amazing. I love going back and I’m actually retuning for the fourth or fifth time in March. I’m really looking forward to it! The festivals are great, and I’m looking forward to my third Adelaide this year. I’m also doing Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, which is brilliant as well.  

I’ve been lucky to see some beautiful locations. Places like Barbados, Thailand, and the Philippines are just incredible. I particularly also remember Iceland being a great place to perform the show; that one really sticks out. So many memories!  

J: How do you keep the character fresh after being Basil for all these years of touring?  

R: It’s quite easy in a lot of respects because every show is different. In theatre, that is the case anyway, but even more so when you’re doing interactive theatre. You’re always dealing with the unexpected, so you can’t rest too much.  

You’re always on your toes. Mentally, that keeps you quite sharp. The spaces we use are always different, so we’ve got different things we can use to find humour, and the audiences are always a bit different too. 

Also, we’re working with different actors a lot of the time, so everyone brings something different. That keeps things very fresh. Fortunately, I get to work with a lot of different teams. 

For me, it’s also about always keeping watching the show. You can always find something new.  

J: You’re now returning to Adelaide Fringe after an action-packed season of touring in 2019. What are you most looking forward to this time around? 

R: I always love coming back to Adelaide, and especially during festival time. I’m also looking forward to catching up with a few people I know there, as well of the performers of course.  

The Fringe is amazing – it takes over the whole city so it’s an exciting place to be. I’m really looking forward to it! 

Catch Rob as Basil at Adelaide Fringe daily* at 7pm , plus 1pm on weekends, 21 February-15 March at Stamford Plaza Adelaide, 150 North Terrace, Adelaide 5000.   

*ex Wednesdays  

Find out more about Rob on the About/Actors page, and about the show, at  www.faultytowersdining.com   

Find out more about Adelaide Fringe here

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