Fawlty Towers – The Play Review

Apollo Theatre – until 28th September 2024

Reviewed by Fiona Leyman


Those of us, of a certain generation, will remember growing up with the classic sitcom Fawlty Towers. The story of a small hotel in the coastal town of Torquay, where not everything goes to plan for its ill-tempered owner Basil Fawlty and his bossy wife Sybil. First airing in 1975, comedy genius John Cleese and Connie Booth created a timeless British series that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years. Although this tv series was only 12 episodes long, many of us will remember watching re-runs on UK Gold. John Cleese has now adapted this beloved classic for the stage, bringing chaos, old school gags and iconic characters to a new audience.

Fawlty Towers – The Play combines three of the show’s most celebrated episodes to create a seamless adaptation. The Hotel Inspectors, Communication Problems, and my personal favourite, The Germans, have all been brought back to life with the same comical humour that we’ve seen on screen. What’s more, John Cleese has remained true to his word and has not created a politically correct version of his show. The farcical chaos that unfolds throughout remains true to its original form, eliciting feelings of nostalgia from the audience. I had John Cleese in my eye line the entire time, and it was lovely to watch him roar with laughter at jokes and sketches he wrote and has undoubtedly seen a thousand times. The same could be felt throughout the audience, who knew what was coming yet still found the chaos hilarious.

The casting for this play was exceptional. Anna-Jane Casey (Calendar Girls, Billy Elliot) as Sybil Fawlty was the night’s standout performance. You’d swear you were watching the real Sybil Fawlty onstage. Her demeanour, tone of voice, glares, and one-of-a-kind laugh were so on point that I had to remind myself it was Anna-Jane on stage, rather than Prunella Scales. Adam Jackson-Smith (The 39 Steps) managed to mimic Cleese’s Basil Fawlty to a tee. His dramatic movements, his high-pitched whine and the signature Hitler impression were faultless. It must have been strange for Cleese to sit there and watch Adam create a 2.0 version of himself. Another notable character came from much loved stage and screen actor Paul Nicholas (Grease, Cats, See No Evil) as the forgetful Major. With his years of experience on stage and screen, he depicts the Major with ease. Hemi Yeroham (La Cage aux Folles) plays the loveable bumbling Manuel. Forever being tormented and smacked round the head by Basil, Hemi, brings a comedic charm to this character. Rachel Izen (Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, Chicago) succeeds in to portraying the obnoxious, insufferable character of almost deaf Mrs Richardson and does so with minimal effort.

Liz Ascroft, Set and Costume Designer, deserves special recognition for transporting the audience into Fawlty Towers with her impeccable attention to detail. The smallest details were visible, right down to the 1970s pop-up address book (you know which one I mean!) on the reception counter. Her costume choices for each character, including Sybil’s well-known purple two-piece suit and Basil’s string vest, made these familiar characters stand out on stage.

Fawlty Towers – The Play is the epitome of nostalgia, exquisitely written and expertly adapted for the stage. John Cleese has stayed true to the original form that we all love, masterfully adapting this beloved television series for audiences to reminisce about better days.