Stage: Fawlty Flowers – Rhumbelow Theatre, Tina’s Hotel, Kloof
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
BACK on stage again since it premiered at the Durban branch of the Rhumbelow Theatre in October 2016, Fawlty Flowers is a joyous collage of characters and stellar moments from Fawlty Towers, the hit BBC TV series that ran for two seasons of six episodes each between 1975 and 1979.
Set in a fictional seaside hotel in Torquay, “the English Riviera”, the show focused on the hotel’s colourful guests, some inept staff and Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), the bumbling, rude and pretentious owner-manager with a nagging wife named Sybil (Prunella Scales).
The series was co-created by and starred Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth, who played blonde chambermaid Polly. It also featured one of the funniest supporting characters in TV history – the memorable Manuel, a bumbling Spanish waiter with little grasp of English, played by German-born Andrew Sachs, who died in 2016.
To say the show was a hit is something of an understatement. It was placed at number one on a list of 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, compiled by the British Film Institute in 2000. Also, earlier this year, reports Wikipedia, the show came out tops in a Radio Times survey that had a panel of comedy experts select the “greatest ever British sitcom”.
Starring stage, film and television actor Mark Mulder (remember him in TV’s The Game?) and versatile actress and comedienne Annie Robinson, both of them in fine form, Fawlty Flowers is a quirky treat laden with classic-comedy nostalgia.
An unpretentious, giddy hodge-podge of a show, it has the hard-working Robinson and Mulder constantly morphing between characters, accents, costumes and wigs, and occasionally talking to and moving clothing on stands to suggest additional characters. It’s all done with verve, relish and lots of tongue in cheek.
Marry all that to excerpts from the TV show’s cracking good script, as well as fun touches including bouts of corpsing and the continual amusement of straying moustaches, and you have a show guaranteed to cure the blues. Especially with a glass of wine or two.
Most of the Fawlty Towers classic moments pop up in a condensed form in the show which, deftly directed and devised by Paul Spence, begins with Mulder, in character as Basil, mingling among the supper theatre audience, chatting and passing comments about them as though they were in the diningroom of his hotel. A fun touch.
Both performers are a constant delight, but Robinson deserves special mention for playing the most characters, nailing bossy Sybil’s cackle of a laugh, and being spot-on with the stance and essence of the put-upon Manuel.
Mulder offers a marvellous Basil Fawlty – his goosestepping moment is a highlight – and is also a hoot as the deaf and demanding guest Mrs Richards and the ever-tipsy Major.
Among other moments, Fawlty Flowers also features “the Germans’, the French femme fatale who tries to seduce a rattled Basil, and sketches centred on Sybil’s toenail operation, Basil’s secret betting on the horses and Manuel’s pet hamster-rat.
Fawlty Flowers has final Durban performances at 8pm today (October 5) and 2pm tomorrow (October 6) before a season at Johannesburg’s Theatre on the Square in Sandton, from October 15 to 26.
Tickets for the Durban season cost R150 each. To book, or for more details, phone Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.