Fawlty show a real hoot for Duns Players

Basil and Manuel
Basil and Manuel

YOU might want to reserve your stay with Duns Players right now as they get ready to present ‘Fawlty Towers’ at the Volunteer Hall next month.

Their take on the classic John Cleese sitcom heralds the start of a busy 12 months for the Berwickshire am drams, and rehearsals are now well under way.

While other sitcoms such as ‘Allo Allo’ have made the transition from small screen to stage on numerous occasions, ‘Fawlty Towers’ is less well travelled and it was only when looking on eBay that Peter Leperniere, who will be at the helm as Basil Fawlty, came across the TV scripts for sale.

As they say, the rest is history, and the rest of the Players didn’t need too much convincing to bring it to the Volunteer Hall.

Two Duns Players, Alex Watson and John Schofield, who gets to play the famous Manuel, explained how the idea came about.

“Peter had a moment of inspiration late one night while looking for something challenging we could tackle for our next production,” John says. “He told me his idea a few days later and we were sold. Remembering the TV show and looking at the scripts that Peter got hold of, it’s clear that episodes of ‘Fawlty Towers’ are classic pieces of writing.

“I read an article by John Cleese recently saying that one script would be written every six weeks, whereas they were expected every three to four days. The team didn’t want anyone to guess just what was going to happen next.’’

Alex adds: “ ‘Fawlty Towers’ really is classic humour at its best. There are such wonderful characters. You’ve got Basil, who is like a coiled spring, and then you’ve got Sybil, who I personally love even though she can be a bit of a nag.”

Both John and Alex agree that the fact there were only 12 episodes ever made of ‘Fawlty Towers’ helped preserve it as 24-carat comedy gold, and they hope audiences will enjoy their time with them from March 3-5.

“There is a high recognition factor with something like ‘Fawlty Towers’,” John continued.

“The DVDs still sell well today and sketches like the one where Basil hits his car with a branch to get it working again still regularly appear on the best comedy moments of all time.’’

Alex adds: “And who could forget ‘Don’t mention the war’.

‘‘One of the episodes we are doing is ‘The Kipper and the Corpse’, where a guest dies and Basil thinks the kippers are to blame,’’ she says.

“Anyone else would ring the emergency services straight away, but not Basil, he hides the man’s body in a wardrobe!”

With John Cleese, Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs putting in such iconic performances in the TV series, it would be easy for Peter Leperniere, Kate Lester, who is playing Sybil, and John to do carbon copies of the originals, particularly as they are going from the TV scripts rather than a stage adaptation, but Alex said that all three were putting their own unique stamp on the roles. “Peter is a fantastic Basil,” she enthused.

“He’s a similar build to John Cleese, which means he can move around in the same manner, but he has tried to make the part his own. Inevitably the script leads you down certain avenues, but that can’t be helped.

“And Kate is fantastic as Sybil. In the show you get to see ‘the real Kate’ away from the glitz and glamour of her previous roles in the likes of ‘Hello Dolly’.’’

John adds: “Manuel is enormous fun to play. There’s a lovely scene between Basil and Manuel when Basil asks him to put a bet on. I’ll not give too much away though. In the words of Manuel ‘I know nothing’...

“It’s important to us that we don’t just re-create what people saw on TV.’’

The one downfall of bringing ‘Fawlty Towers’ into the realms of theatre is that unlike on TV, where the camera can cut away to scenes to allow sets to be re-arranged, Duns Players don’t have this luxury. But they are remedying the technical obstacles by performing on four separate stages to represent different parts of the hotel.

“What we have done is to take a TV script and tried to work out how it could play out on stage,” John explains.

“Whereas the likes of ‘Allo Allo’ have been performed in the theatre and therefore carry their own stage directions, we have had to make up our own and it has been quite hard work. For example when it comes to learning the script there might be 40 lines but 90 stage directions.

“ ‘Fawlty Towers’ relies heavily on actions as well as lines so it’s important we get the directions right,” says Alex. “It’s quite a difficult show to stage and clever lighting will play a part to shift people’s attention to the stage where the action is taking place.”

Although John admits that like other local drama groups, Duns Players have at times found it hard to recruit people to their ranks, there was no shortage of interest for ‘Fawlty Towers’.

“We had a huge response to the auditions; I think it was word of mouth more than anything. For a small group like ourselves it can often be the case that when it comes to shows we’ve got seven roles to fill but only six people to fill them. But fortunately that’s not the case with this play and it’s an absolute pleasure to be involved.”

And although they have yet to welcome their first guests to ‘Fawlty Towers’, Duns Players have already got on eye on their summer production, which will be the first piece of theatre to be staged at the newly renovated Greenlaw Town Hall.

The building isn’t yet open to the public, but the Players are in the diary for June with the Scottish premiere of Peter Durrant’s WW2 drama ‘The Brylcreem Boys’.

The play has a young cast and while young Berwickshire actors are being lined up to fill the British roles, the Players are looking for a young Polish man to play a Polish soldier. The search is on.

•The Duns Players’ fundraising quiz is on Friday, February 18 in the British Legion at 7.30pm.