My crazy dinner with Basil and Sybil and Manuel
Nick Bramhill books a table at the interactive comedy dining experience, Faulty Towers
Don't mention the war! A team of Fawlty Towers impersonators have been running riot in hotels across Ireland. Hundreds of Irish fans of the timeless 1970s sitcom have jumped at the chance to be verbally abused while having a three-course meal served to them by an Australian comedy troupe in character as Basil, Sybil and Manuel.
The show, titled Faulty Towers and staged by Interactive Theatre Australia, has been on a month-long nationwide tour, and celebrates its 100th Irish performance tonight in Tallaght's Civic Theatre.
But, be warned: the two-hour culinary experience is not for the faint-hearted. Rather than merely observe the zany antics behind their knives and forks, diners can expect to find themselves served up as part of the entertainment.
At a show last Friday in Kinsale's Trident Hotel, Co Cork, the madness began when the 100-plus diners were interrupted from their cosy drinks reception by a flustered Basil, played brilliantly by actor Blair Martin.
Looking the part with his lean, towering figure and donning Basil's trademark tweed suit, he read out the names of guests from a seating plan, after which they were led to their tables by a hyper-active Manuel.
A group of German tourists saw the funny side when they were told in Basil's clipped, booming voice to "go to table number three, not NEIN, but three. Yes, go straight to number three and do not invade Poland on the way."
Then the Faulty Towers proprietor asked a group of Greek diners: "Have you come to offer economic advice to Ireland?", before turning his attention to a couple of elderly guests and demanding they walk to their tables more swiftly "so we could all eat this side of the Millennium".
Once everyone was seated, the abuse picked up even more, with diners praying they wouldn't be targeted.
Sybil, played by comedian Karen Hamilton, took orders from one table from two vegetarians, turning to the other four diners at the table and tactlessly asking in a perfectly pitched undulating tone: "That's two vegetarians. Are the rest of you normal?"
The energetic interaction between Basil and David Sweetman's Manuel drew most laughs, as the hapless waiter stood on tables, hid under tables and dropped plates as he tried to evade his grumpy boss, who -- just as in the TV show -- would sometimes drag him around by the ear.
Although most of the show was improvised, famous scenes from several of the classic episodes -- such as Basil The Rat and The Germans -- drew huge cheers.
At one stage the famous fire drill scene from one episode was replicated, with Basil screaming at the top of his voice into the ear of one elderly female guest: "Fire!"
Goose-stepping off to a huge round of applause at the end of the show, Basil turned round to diners and told them they were "nothing but a bunch of potato-eating, Guinness-drinking riff-raff", before turning his attention to Manuel once more to inform he was "fired".
Naturally, Manuel misunderstood and thinking the dining room was in flames, he once more let off the fire extinguisher.
Karen Hamilton, a 46-year-old actress from Queensland, has played the part of Basil's domineering wife Sybil for more than 10 years. She says no two shows are ever identical as the performances are mostly improvised and depend on the interaction and participation of the diners.
"I'd say only one-third of the show is scripted and the rest is ad lib. So that means if you get a great audience, like we have during this Irish tour, you're going to get a great show.
"The concept of the show is that you are coming to dine in Faulty Towers, so you become part of the performance. When I first started playing Sybil, I had a page of routines. Now I have 26 pages."
The show has proved such a hit that before arriving in Ireland, it played 42 sold-out shows in 28 days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The performers are often called upon to bring their night of chaos to corporate events, where they expand their characters to include cameos by cowboy Irish builder O'Reilly, the eccentric Major and the hard-of-hearing Mrs Richards.
Brisbane actor Blair Martin has played the role of Basil Fawlty for 12 years.
One hotel waitress, who tried to speak to him in the kitchens of the Trident Hotel during the show's interval, said: "He was still in Basil mode and gave me loads of abuse. Even when he's out of view of the diners, he is still in character. I decided after that not to go near him again," she laughs.
The tour continues tonight at Tallaght's Civic Thetare and in Raheen House Hotel, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, from October 2-4. A six-week tour from May 15 and a five-week tour from Sept 30 has been pencilled in for 2011.