‘I went shopping as Sybil’: How this Comedy Festival show captures the essence of Fawlty Towers

‘I went shopping as Sybil’: How this Comedy Festival show captures the essence of Fawlty Towers

Faulty Towers
Words by Sidonie Bird de la Coeur
In partnership with Faulty Towers

Interactive Theatre International presents a loving and faithful homage to John Cleese and Connie Booth’s hit BBC TV sitcom with 'Faulty Towers The Dining Experience'.

During Faulty Towers The Dining Experience, the audience is invited to a three course meal served by the chaotic and tense Basil Fawlty, his authoritative wife Sybil and the disorganised waiter Manuel. As one of the most successful interactive comedy shows of its kind –with over 24 years of critical acclaim and being performed in around 20 countries a year – the experience is hilarious, hectic and never the same twice.

Within Faulty Towers The Dining Experience, Rebecca Fortuna plays Sybil Fawlty, a role originally developed for the screen by Prunella Scales. I was interested in the process of stepping into the shoes of an already existing, iconic character for role in interactive theatre.

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“You learn everything about that character – I watched Fawlty Towers on repeat,” she explains, “I made recordings of her voice and just listened. That’s the most iconic part of her character, her voice, so getting that correct was really important for me … with improv it’s not about being able to just say the words on the page, you have to be ready to do anything and say anything.”

“So – I went shopping as Sybil! I went to Cosco and ordered my partner around, it was just living as Sybil rather than just learning the lines. That’s how the process started, and then it’s finding my version of that; finding my interpretation of that relationship between Sybil and Basil and what drives her, because that’s all stuff that’s unspoken, and Prunella Scales would have had her own version of that. Having my drive and my intention for Sybil, being true to the show and not trying to reinvent the wheel – the show already gave you so much to work with, so just building on that and having fun with it!”

For Rebecca, portraying Basil Fawlty’s commanding wife Sybil on stage is “just so great – I love that I can tell a guest to sit down, be quiet and I’m in charge, but I do it with a smile and they just giggle, laugh and love it. She can get away with so much! She’s not rude – that’s definitely Basil’s thing – she’s the hostess and she loves to chat. Just going in and being able to gossip with people, telling people to come in and how great they look, pointing out different parts of their outfit that I genuinely think look fabulous and just seeing their faces light up – it’s so lovely.”

Rebecca Fortuna has an extensive acting resume outside of interactive improvised theatre, appearing in Utopia, No Such Thing as Monsters and Rostered On. “At the end of the day, the core of acting work is all the same … but the mediums are very different,” she states, “film and TV moves a lot quicker than theatre, you do it and its done, whereas this will be my fifth year doing Fawlty Towers, therefore it’s something that you get to continue to build and develop and find new things.”

“I love working in all mediums, they’ve all got their pros and cons, and I love the differences. I’ve just come off working on a new comedy skit webseries called In Newcastle Tonight, which is super fun but going back into improvised theatre is a whole other beast. Improvisation is just a different skillset because you don’t have the safety of lines and the safety of knowing. In improvised work, the actors can throw you anything, and in interactive improvised work … the audience can throw you anything – and they do. They’re constantly trying to trip us up, especially those die-hard fans. They’ll come in and ask for their Waldorf Salad and just kind of stop and just look at you – they’re testing you to see if you know it.”

“They can throw you some curveballs. I remember the first thing that really threw me right at the start of my shows, Sybil obviously plays golf, and someone asked me what my handicap was for golf and I was just like …. Uhhh … I don’t know golf … so I had to go back and do my golf research. I was like, I’m never going to let that trip me up again. It’s being able to tap dance your way out of the situation, but that’s where all the research comes in … being totally comfortable with the character so that anything that they throw at you, you’ve got something. If in doubt, you just give them a look and walk away, ‘I don’t have time. Oh, Basil’s calling me’ and off I go.”

“There’s a lot of that kind of banter in the improvisations with people. At the end of the day though; Basil, Manuel and the audience will do what they’re told by Sybil – that’s fun as well, that control, even if the actor doesn’t want to do something. If I tell them ‘go get them a chair’ they’re like, well, Sybil has told me to do this so it has to be done. So much authority and it’s great.”

Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is showing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from the 8-17 April, at 1pm and 7pm. Presented by Interactive Theatre International. Suitable for all ages.

Book tickets and find out more information here.