Right now I am on a train zooming my way back down to London after a speedy and fun weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This was my second Fringe, my first being 2 years ago and once again i’m leaving the incredible, wonderful city on a massive high whilst also being completely and utterly exhausted!
There’s still a week left of the festival so if it’s within your means to take a few days off work and head up to the other side of the wall, you really must! There is so much going on you’ll struggle to decide which events, shows and sets to go and see, but if you’re going to do anything, you simply MUST book yourself in for the Faulty Towers Dining Experience at The B’Est restaurant not too far from the heart of the festival on Drummond Street.
The show is a 2-hour tour de force of gags and shambolic service based upon the original TV sitcom Fawlty Towers (can you believe it?!) as Basil, Sybil and Manuel serve a ‘70s-style 3-course meal together with a good dollop of mayhem. The experience isn’t a cheap one, but it does include 3 courses of not too shabby food. There’s a peak price on weekend tickets and our lunch today cost £54.50 each but on week days prices do dip ever so slightly.
We arrived at the venue just before 2pm and were offered the drinks list. Drinks are not included in your price which is a little bit of a sting. A complimentary welcome drink might have been a nice touch but that’s not to be focussed on. It’s trivial in comparison to the rest of the afternoon’s experience.
If like me you absolutely adored Fawlty Towers and have watched each of the 12 episodes (yes, only 12 were ever made and yet for me it’s one of the most epic British sitcoms in history!) over and over again, you’ll know the characters inside out. Their quirks and comical mannerisms are committed to your memory and you will arrive sceptical that anyone other than Cleese or Sachs themselves will be able to provide the humungus laughs the show always has managed.
As you wait to go in, you’re suddenly introduced to Manuel who is, as expected, doing a horrible job at being a competent waiter. He looks quite similar to the Manuel of our screens, with the confused Spanish accent perfected. When Basil Faulty arrives (looking tall, lanky and exasperated) the mayhem synonymous with the Torquay hotel begins.
We were shown through to our table in the dining room. It’s not big enough to have a table to yourself if you’re a small party, as we were, so you must expect to share. It helps if your table companions have a decent sense of humour and some enthusiasm which sadly, ours didn’t, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying what followed.
Food service was a debacle as you’d expect, with cutlery in limited supply, food arriving at different times and in some cases, not at all, as was the case with the miniature bread sticks which were flung from table to table by Manuel. Our starter was soup… I couldn’t be certain on the flavour but if I were to hazard a guess I’d say perhaps a vegetable soup. It doesn’t take much for you to learn that this really isn’t a culinary experience – don’t expect gourmet food, but expect to at least leave full.
I was pressured into finishing my soup by Manual, who proceeded to spoon feed it to Josh like a baby much to his utter dismay and my sheer delight. I was then told off by Basil for using my phone at the table (picture taking like the uncouth blogging monster that I am) and Josh was hit on by Sybil who took an instant shining to him.
The narrative of the experience is inspired by the original show but none of the script is directly taken from it. In fact, about two thirds of the show is improvised, though they perform so seamlessly you’d never know. Basil’s voice is a dead ringer for Cleese and he has absolutely nailed the mannerisms, facial quirks and even posture, while Sybil has cracked the chesty in-hale laugh and cackle and the stern scowl all too frequently thrown in the direction of her husband.
Our main course was a Sunday lunch of bacon wrapped chicken breast (Sybil to Josh: “Are you enjoying my breast?”) with rice (plot twist!), roast potatoes, mushrooms and a Yorkshire pud. All actually quite delicious and presented quite well considering this is mass catering in what appeared to be a quite small kitchen. For this there was no need to pressure me into finishing my plate.
It was in the interim between our mains and desserts that everything went to pot. With a huge domestic between Sybil and Basil, and sheer chaos caused by Manuel, utter madness befell the dining room… quite literally. This was the climax of the entire performance and had me snorting into my wine, and whooping and cheering at the gem of a scene they began to pay homage to. You know the one I mean… It was a scene of pure slap stick comedy genius and the perfect ending to an hilarious experience.
Once the performance had officially ended, dessert was served. A super creamy cheesecake that didn’t taste too dissimilar to the ones served on the patisserie counter at Waitrose (where I held one of my first jobs as a teenager) and was served with ice cream (icey and reminiscent of the cheap stuff your parents would feed you as a kid) with a runny berry coulis and an inelegant squirt of canned cream, but you shouldn’t turn your nose up at any of this because it was actually very tasty!
There is no doubt that these actors know their characters inside out. The performance throughout was faultless, and one they should be proud of. The initial scepticism I felt had melted away by the end; I loved it and would recommend to anyone who loved the show. It’s certainly suitable for the whole family and dietary requirements can easily be catered for. If you’re not able to make it up to Edinburgh before the end of the Fringe next weekend, do not fret! This is a touring show, and there are shows in London and around the UK frequently so there is plenty of opportunity for you to have your own Faulty experience!
You can grab your tickets to the experience here