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“My little nest of vipers “

Basil Fawlty to his wife Sybil

Adam Hickson-Smith as Basil Fawlty, Anna-Jane Casey as Sybil Fawlty and Victoria Fox as Polly (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Those of us who can remember the late 1970s cannot be unaware of Fawlty Towers, the BBC television series written by ex Monty Python member John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth about the Torquay hotelier Basil Fawlty whose rudeness and intractability are legendary. 

I remember being stuck in the pre-natal maternity ward in Queen Charlotte’s, my baby a few days overdue.  Two programmes made me laugh, one was a programme about South American brightly coloured frogs and the other was a classic episode of Fawlty Towers.  I think it was the one when he was fetching a gourmet dinner from another restaurant and the car broke down and he beat the living daylights out of it with a large tree branch.  “I’m going to give you a damn good thrashing!” I laughed so much, I went into labour shortly afterwards to give birth to my son.

The show had brilliant stock characters, beside Basil there was Prunella Scales as his wife Sybil, who spent hours each day on the phone to her friend Audrey and whose braying laugh was momentous.  The waiter Manuel played by the late Andrew Sachs spoke very little English which was a running joke as he misunderstood Basil’s shouted orders.  Calming everybody was the resourceful maid Polly played by Connie Booth. 

Adam Jackson-Smith as Basil Fawlty and Semi Yeroham as Manuel. (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

John Cleese has adapted three episodes of Fawlty Towers into a two hour show with one interval.  The first is about Sybil (Anna-Jane Casey)’s intel from Audrey that there are hotel inspectors in town.  I realised how similar this plot was to Gogol’s The Government Inspector.  Adam Jackson-Smith is a wonderfully lanky Basil with superb expressions and comic timing, capturing Cleese’s idiosyncratic and eccentric body language.

A particularly difficult customer has booked into Fawlty Towers with a long list of exceptional demands sure to wind up the most tolerant of receptionists but on reception is the irascible and inimitable, Basil.  This customer is Mr Hutchinson (Steve Meo) who has a phobia about using germ ridden telephones, curry stains on maps, wants an ice bucket for his small bottle of ginger beer and has several other piddling demands. Despite his better instincts Basil doesn’t want a bad review and tries to placate Mr Hutchinson.

Rachel Izen as Mrs Richards, Anna-Jane Casey as Sybil Fawlty and Adam Jackson-Smith as Basil Fawlty. (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Manuel (Hemi Yeroham) from Barcelona with very little English gets the table numbers mixed up so no-one gets their correct order of food and wine. Sybil tries to sort it out but isn’t helped by Mr Hutchinson changing his order.

Basil gets a horse racing tip from a customer and spends an episode trying to hide his winnings from a very suspicious Sybil. Paul Nicholas plays the doddery Major, a long term resident guest.  Miss Tibbs (Kate Russell-Smith) and Miss Catsby (Nicola Sanderson),  two elderly women residents walk in.  They are hysterically funny without saying a word, one with her wobbling gait and the other with huge respect for Mr Fawlty.  The classic episode about the German guests and “Don’t mention the war!” is also in the play.

Hemi Yeroham as Manuel and the Moose (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Liz Ascroft’s set and costumes are authentic.  There is an upstairs to the reception and dining entrance to the hotel with views of other white painted, with black window frames seaside mansions in the area. There is a detailed bedroom for the difficult Mrs Richards (Rachel Izen) from which to “have her money stolen”. The reception area could have been where the television show was filmed so detailed and accurate is it.

The director Caroline Jay Ranger directed a stage adaptation of Fawlty Towers in Sydney, Australia in 2016 and was the director of Only Fools and Horses the Musical.

Sybil’s hair is a highlight as is her donkey braying laugh and Anna-Jane Casey is lovely with Sybil’s twangy accent. I really missed Sybil when she was off having her ingrowing toenail attended to. I know that there are plenty of John Cleese impersonators out there manning Fawlty Towers the Dining Experience but Adam Jackson-Smith has those incredibly long legs for the German inspired goose step.    Polly the resourceful maid is played by Victoria Fox.

The performances are perfection and the whole show is full of nostalgic laughter.  There is no innovation in this production apart from seeing everything live but the vast majority of the humour still raises a laugh and the jokes are like an aged Claret which stands up well to the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Cast. (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Production Notes

Fawlty Towers

Written  by John Cleese and Connie Booth

Adapted for the stage by John Cleese 

Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger



Anna-Jane Casey

Adam Jackson-Smith

Danny Bayne

Hemi Yeroham

Paul Nicholas

Rachel Izen

Steven Meo

Victoria Fox


Director:  Caroline Jay Ranger

Designer: Liz Ascroft

Lighting Designer: Ian Scott

Sound Designer: Rory Madden

Fight Director: Kate Waters


Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes including an interval

Booking to 28th September 2024


Apollo Theatre

Shaftesbury Avenue

London W1D 7EZ

Box Office: 0330 333 4809


Tube: Piccadilly Circus

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Apollo

on 15th May 2023