The British comedian John Cleese is known for many things, Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda, playing ‘Q/R’ in James Bond and, of course, Fawlty Towers.
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If you are not familiar with the television series, you might be familiar with the Fawlty Towers Dinning Experience which has fed theatre goers with a Fawlty Towers experience in Australia since 1997.
However, over the last few months Cleese has put together a team of actors and comedians for a very special tour.
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Cleese has taken the reins and written a very special stage show based on scenes from his favourite episodes of Fawlty Towers and the show’s World tour starts in Australia, in August.
The cast was handpicked by Cleese and the core contingent comprises of:
Accomplished theatre actress Blazey Best as Sybil.
Syd Brisbane, whose acting credits include roles in Australian films such as Kiss Or Kill and Bad Boy Bubby, plays Manuel.
Polly is played by Aimee Horne who has worked extensively in film, television and theatre.
Basil, who always seems to be at the epicenter of all the mayhem that takes place at Fawlty Towers is played by Melbournian Stephen Hall.
Hall has dabbled in stage shows in the past; he played all of Cleese’s roles in the premier season of Monty Python’s Spamalot in 2007 and after success at the 2013 Melbourne Fringe Festival took his one man show: Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade: One Man Performs Three Indiana Jones Movies In An Hour. And A Bit to the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Most recently he has written and performed as part of the team on the ABC show Mad As Hell.
We managed to grab Hall at one of the press days leading up to Fawlty Towers Live, which debuts on August 19th in Sydney, to ask him some questions about what it means play Basil.
JP: You have a history of Cleeseness as your stint in the opening season of Spamalot would indicate. It could also be said that your parodical (Raiders) and satirical (Mad As Hell) comedy stylings make your comedy quite Pythonesque. What specifically attracted you to the Fawlty Towers Stage Show and the role of Basil Fawlty?
SH: Having been a huge fan of Monty Python since I was very young, and an equally huge fan of Fawlty Towers since it was first played on Australian television in the late seventies… this is THE stage show, and THE role to aspire to. As soon as my agent let me know about the auditions, I pursued it with everything I had – I did every single scrap of homework and research I could (even though the scripts were so familiar to me, having watched all the episodes many times over the years). For any comic actor, a chance to step into the shoes of one of the most iconic and hilarious characters that British comedy has ever produced is like… dare I say it? … the Holy Grail.
JP: If You had not been picked to play Basil, what other role would you have been happy with and why?
SH: I didn’t think about playing any of the other roles at any stage in the audition process; I was going for Basil or nothing. I believed I could do it, and approached it with as much focus and determination as I could. There was no second prize. Having said that, if I’d been offered Mr. Hutchison (the pompous customer who Basil thinks is a hotel inspector) or The Major…. well, I’d think very carefully about passing those roles up. But then again, if I were playing either of those, I might just spend each night on stage just being jealous of whoever they’d cast as Basil…. Hmm. Interesting question, James.
JP: Have you had much of a chance to learn from the original Basil? Has he been giving you any tips on perfecting the mannerisms of a ‘masochistic, people hating, hotellier’?
SH: Not that much of a chance. On the third audition day – which was the one when the final contenders auditioned in front of Mr. Cleese – he did take me aside a few times to give me notes about the various audition scenes I was playing. Quite specific notes, about certain lines or ways of moving. I obviously incorporated them into my performance in subsequent runs of the scenes, but I don’t remember the specifics of them. When rehearsals start in a couple of weeks, our director CJ Ranger will start working on those things with me, and Mr. Cleese will be coming back and getting involved later on in the rehearsal process.
JP: Which particular episodes and scenes are you most looking forward to re-enacting?
SH: I do have a soft spot for The Germans – and have been doing some work on improving my flexibility for that walk. But I also love Communication Problems, with the monstrous Mrs. Richards and her on-again, off-again hearing aid. And of course, there’s the fight scenes with Mr. Hutchison in The Hotel Inspectors.... in short, James, I’m looking forward to all of it!
JP: What about after the Australia and New Zealand Tour? Any talk of ‘Stephen Fawlty’ going global?
SH: There’s no talk of that just yet. Hey, let’s (silly) walk before we run! But I think it’s a safe bet that the long term plan for the show would be to have it play in other (overseas) markets, certainly. As for my involvement with any of that, I wouldn’t have a clue. Let’s just worry about that when it happens, I reckon…
JP: What is next for Stephen Hall? Will you be unboxing Raiders again?
SH: We start [Fawltly Towers Live] rehearsals on July 11th, and Opening Night is in Sydney on August 19th. Right up until then, I’m still working on Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, which is shot every week, and airs each Wednesday night on the ABC. And with the run of Fawlty Towers Live plannedo go through to next year, I don’t currently have any plans to resurrect my one man show Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade: One Man Performs Three Indiana Jones Movies In An Hour. And A Bit. After Fawlty Towers Live finishes, who knows? I certainly should have got my fitness levels up pretty high after that!
Fawlty Towers Live will be at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne from September 21st until October 16th. Tickets are selling fast so if you want to see it in Melbourne, buy them early.