Steve Simms,

Leighton Buzzard Observer, July 2015

Nothing Fawlty about this great Basil reboot

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As a massive fan of Fawlty Towers, Leighton Buzzard Drama Group’s latest show was one I could simply not afford to miss.

I’ve got the DVDs, the book containing all the scripts and even been to the Faulty (sic) Towers dining experience in London a couple of months ago. So the stage was set at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre for a Saturday evening of hilarity.
Could the drama group deliver? Well, let’s just say after A Touch Of Class, Communication Problems and Basil The Rat, they did the original show proud and I left a very satisfied customer (they should have me stuffed!).

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You could tell all the actors knew their character’s idiosyncrasies to perfection.

Andrew Meadows stole the show as he demonstrated the incompetence, short fuse, and arrogance of hotel manager Basil. Watching him racing around the set in a strop was great fun, as was seeing him getting more and more irritated by Russell Bennett’s superb Manuel.

Lorna Daggett (Sybil) and Emma Stone (Polly) also nailed their roles, and I also enjoyed Andrew Ferguson’s Terry the cockney chef and Bob Kempster’s Lord Melbury.

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Special mentions should go to Randell Moll as the bumbling Major Gowen. His shotgun scene in Basil The Rat made most of the audience jump out of their seats as he goes hunting for vermin, Germans, or was it starlings? And we were in fits of laughter when the cracker box was opened at the end of Basil The Rat, despite knowing exactly what was going to happen.

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But many of my favourite scenes from the evening starred Barbara Springthorne who played the deaf old bat Mrs Richards and wound Basil and the staff up a treat.

After such a great night, all I want to know now is when is the drama group going to get its hands on another three episodes?

Richard Fitt

NODA representative

NODA reps are asked to review over 30+ different productions a year; for some this might be a challenge; for me however it is a great pleasure and one where I may even pick up some ideas on how I may be able to improve my own performance in the future. We look forward to seeing how each society tackles their production and how they have made it their own. The individual nuances, interpretation, comic timing and the direction are just some of the ways a society may choose to try and make their version memorable.   Leighton Buzzard’s production of Fawlty Towers doesn’t fall into that category; that sounds like a criticism – let me assure you – it isn’t!

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Making the decision to take on a much loved, highly respected television series is no easy feat; yes it offers high rewards – there probably won’t be an empty seat at any performance; but the risks are high too. The audience knows what they are coming to see; but also knows exactly what they want to see. This is not a time for personal interpretation or making it “your own”.   The public wants a carbon copy of the original. That’s no easy feat – its amateurs playing professionals playing characters they have created. Every idiosyncrasy, mannerism and vocal intonation must be recreated. And that is exactly what Leighton Buzzard Drama Group did.

Playing on a hot sticky Thursday night to a completely full house this was indeed a quality production which didn’t disappoint. They chose three episodes, ‘A Touch of Class’ and ‘Communication Problems’ directed by Jo Taylor and ‘Basil The Rat’ directed by Carl Russell. The set was a very neat, well thought out, busy design by Mike Ward consisting of reception, dining area, kitchen, bar and even a bedroom, all of which was a great example of attention to detail and looking very much a scaled down version of the television set.

The net result was that anytime the main action was going on in one area the actors were unobtrusively going about their business in whatever other areas were occupied. You got the impression immediately of a working hotel but your attention rarely wandered from the main action. A neat trick well thought out and well executed.

The lighting and sound by Dave Miles and Tom Davis were faultless and it was a pleasure to be able to hear every word clearly, not always the case in my job, but they are of course helped by an excellent, purpose built venue.

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The main challenge with these TV adaptations is casting, you must have the actors to play their household named characters and this series is particularly difficult as it really does depend on the quality, characteristics and physical appearance of the main character, Basil Fawlty. Andrew Meadows as Basil had all of these in abundance and pulled this off with total confidence, voice, gesticulation and deportment, he really did become John Cleese at times. My only disappointment that the script doesn’t allow a moment of silly walks! It would have topped it off perfectly!!

Equally as good and a real treat was Lorna Daggett as Sybil Fawlty. Her physical appearance was spot on and if you closed your eyes at times you really were listening to Prunella Scales. As the two main characters you couldn’t really have expected better.

Russell Bennett played the dream role of Manuel, the Spanish waiter from Barcelona and delivered all the well know catch phrases with aplomb, keeping the audience in raptures and deservedly receiving the inevitable applause on ‘I know nothing!’

The rest of the ‘resident’ cast were also a delight, Emma Stone as Polly, another faultless performance, Andrew Ferguson as Terry Hugh, the Chef, Jan Murray and Ann Kempster as the two resident old ladies and of course Randall Moll as Major Gower. I particularly loved his use of the vacant expression, an absolute delight, very well acted Sir!

The ‘guest cast’ didn’t let the side down either, many playing several parts with particularly strong performances from Bob Kempster as Lord Melbury the confidence trickster , Barbara Springthorpe as Mrs Richards the demonstrative guest who ‘lost’ her money and Steve Martin as Mr Carnegie, The health inspector. And not forgetting the cameo role by Basil the Hamster.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening and my congratulations to Jan Delamore and her team, and many thanks to the front of house team and particularly to Carl Russell for your hospitality. Amateur dramatics is alive and well and living in Leighton Buzzard. I look forward to the other nine episodes Carl has threatened!