Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The Faulty Towers Dining Experience
There are many dining experiences in London that seem to take gleeful pleasure in providing bad service, but The 'Faulty' Towers Dining Experience (the clue is in the name) is surely the most fun.
I took my friend on a surprise mate date here for her birthday last Sunday. I think she may have been expecting a girly afternoon tea or cocktails, so it's fair to say she was rather taken aback on entering the bar at the Charing Cross Hotel only to be accosted by a flustered, exasperated Basil Fawlty, suspiciously asking us if we were "together".
In this manic, loosely scripted tribute to the TV series, we - the diners - became characters in an episode of the chaotic 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers.
Our waiters for the evening were none other than the lovably grumpy Basil Fawlty, his nagging wife Sybil and the feckless but endearing Spaniard, Manuel. I think Polly must have had the night off.
The actors stayed in character all evening, and only a small proportion of the night was scripted so there was a brilliant element of reckless spontaneity to the proceedings as the Fawlty Towers staff mingled (and argued) with nearly everyone in the room. In between courses, the staff seamlessly incorporated new and classic scenes from the show, including the fire drill, the escaped rat and of course, the immortal lines "Don't mention the War!" and "I know nothing!"
Just like the sitcom, this is slapstick, physical comedy. The tall and gangling Basil clambered around under my seat looking for Manuel's 'pet rat', shortly after Manuel helpfully tucked my napkin into my top - leading my friend to observe I'd been sort of groped by both Basil and Manuel in the course of the evening (score!).
You'll need a very British sense of self-deprecating irony to appreciate that, at the Faulty Towers Dining Experience, you're willingly paying for deliberately awful service and bland retro food (when they ran out of soup, Sybil kindly informed us that she would "ask Chef to open another tin").
You should, for example, prepare to be treated with exasperated disdain before you've even sat down at your table. Thankfully, no-one seemed to be genuinely insulted when publicly asked, "Did you forget your medication, dear?" and told to "Tuck your shirt in!", before being applauded by the entire room.
This could quite easily have been a total cringe-fest, as of course its success entirely depends on the ability of the cast to involve - but never humiliate - their guests, and to loyally impersonate the much-loved original characters.
However you'll be pleased to know that Basil, Manuel and Sybil completely nailed their uncannily accurate performances, and clearly share a fondness for the show; nearly three hours later, their masks still hadn't slipped. It was only once we were leaving the hotel and encountered 'Basil' on his way home, we realised he was in fact a friendly, chilled-out Australian in his late 20s (who had lost his voice from all the shouting).
Just like a cosy Sunday night watching old repeats of the sitcom, our evening at the Faulty Towers Dining Experience was nostalgic, comforting, raucously funny and quintessentially English. Next time, I'm bringing my mum.
The Faulty Towers Dining Experience now has an open-ended residency at the Charing Cross Hotel. Tickets range from £43.50 to £49.50.