Reviews Roundup: Fawlty Towers The Play 3.6★

Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

Fawlty Towers The Play. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Fawlty Towers is so well-loved, there was always a danger that a stage adaptation would disappoint. For some critics, it did, but most found that John Cleese’s theatrical version of three classic episodes honoured the original. Opinions varied on whether the actors were making the characters their own or simply doing impressions but they did their job well and, crucially, Adam Jackson-Smith impressed as Basil Fawlty.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Neil Norman in The Express (4★) thought it was ‘the funniest show in town.’ He said, ‘Director Caroline Jay Ranger ensures that the comedy timing is immaculate’ and ‘Jackson-Smith is well nigh perfect.’ Fiona Mountford of the i (4★) ‘emerged two hours later, giddily and delightfully weak from laughing’. Clive Davis, an avowed fan of the TV series, declared in The Times (4★) ‘this genial condensing of three episodes delivers a hugely entertaining blast of unadorned nostalgia.’

Marianka Swain at LondonTheatre (4★) positively wallowed in the nostalgia. ‘This brand of farce, building from comedy-of-manners to manic slapstick, is also very much of its time.’ ‘with not a single word wasted, and some of the best punchlines ever written.’ ‘Caroline Jay Ranger keeps the pacing brisk and maintains the original’s zany energy and pin-sharp timing.’ Aliya Al-Hassan at BroadwayWorld (4★) called it ‘a very funny and entertaining evening, one that is remarkably faithful to the original material.’ She thought, ‘The cast is superb, landing every joke and intonation expected of them’ and picked out the main character, ‘Adam Jackson-Smith is the reincarnation of Cleese’ She was pleased with ‘the incredibly deft comic timing and old-fashioned and very British entertainment.’

In The Sunday Times (4★) Dominic Maxwell overcame his fears about putting a beloved TV show on stage: ‘This is a celebration, not a museum…This stuff still works. And it is done here with love as well as a laser focus. It is nothing I haven’t seen before, but it made me laugh a lot.’ It may not seem like it but Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail (4) was happy that it replicated the TV show: ‘Caroline Jay Ranger’s production offers her company all the creative freedom that Kim Jong Un grants the people of North Korea.’

Brian Logan in The Guardian (3★) was quite enthusiastic: ‘this Fawlty Towers redux is no pale imitation of the original, but a very vivid one.’ Adam Bloodworth at CityAM (3★) seemed to like it despite himself: ‘it’s better than you’d think.’ He ended, ‘it might not be challenging theatre, but it’s a nostalgic joy.’ Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (3★), while saying it was ‘indisputably funny’, cautioned ‘the show falls far short of its peerless source material.’ ‘You admire the fidelity of the impersonations,’ he said, ‘while still pining futilely for the genuine article.’ He felt the comedy had worked better on television back in the 1970s: ‘the use of farcical elements…looks decidedly creaky today’

It was all too familiar for Tom Wicks in Time Out (3) : ‘We’re left anticipating old laughs rather than being surprised by new ones.’ Theo Bosanquet for WhatsOnStage (3) thought the same: ‘it inevitably struggles to feel like anything more than a kind of waxwork impression.’

For Nick Curtis in the Standard (3★) it was an ‘efficient and energetic stage adaptation’ but an ‘oddly soulless affair’. Twisting the butter knife, he continued, ‘it feels like an exercise in zombie nostalgia.’ While others revelled in its fidelity to the original, for Nick, ‘Caroline Jay Ranger’s production, overseen by Cleese, is too loyal to the source.’ I think we know the answer when Nick found himself ‘wondering if there were any artistic rather than purely commercial justification for this stage adaptation.’ As Manuel might say, ‘¿Qué’

Fawlty Towers The Play can be seen at the Apollo Theatre until 28 September 2024. Buy tickets directly from FawltyTowersWestend.com

Average critics’ rating 3.6★
Value Rating 40 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60.)

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