The cast of the play Fawlty Towers Live.
The cast of the play Fawlty Towers Live. James Morgan

Check in to John Cleese's stage version of Fawlty Towers

IT WAS deliciously farcical and so politically incorrect in such an hilarious way 40 years ago.

The storylines centred around the crazy goings-on in a hotel in the English seaside town of Torquay, featuring rude and obnoxious hotel owner Basil Fawlty, his bossy and domineering wife Sybil, chambermaid Polly the peacemaker, hapless Spanish waiter Manuel and their menagerie of guests.

The Fawlty Towers BBC TV comedy became a global hit with the beloved characters now ingrained in our psyche.

But when the last of the 12 half-hour recorded episodes aired in 1979, fans were left with free-to-air and pay-TV reruns or were forced to resort to "poor man's alternatives" on community stages and in theatre restaurants.

So who would believe, given such an expanse of time and distance, a touring stage version could bring such a fresh approach and rekindle our enthusiasm for the Seventies comedy?

John Cleese did.

The World Premiere Tour of Fawlty Towers Live - the official stage adaptation of the cult series, now playing in Brisbane's QPAC Playhouse - is testament to the timeless comic genius of the Monty Python co-founder and his original co-writer and (then wife) Connie Booth.

The fast-paced show, directed by Caroline Jay Ranger, manages to do the seemingly impossible: cram "the best bits" of Cleese's favourites among the episodes into just over 90 minutes.

We really shouldn't laugh - but we can't help ourselves.

We know what's coming in the sketch - but we are gleefully surprised when it arrives.

In fact, there's barely anything new or unusual about the Liz Ascroft-designed hotel reception desk and dining room setting, the actors' lines we can all recite or the memorable moments from "Communication Problems" (aka Theft), "Basil The Rat", "The Hotel Inspectors" and "The Germans" that are weaved throughout two acts towards a calamitous finale.

But that's why we love it.

This stage show is a triumph of familiarity of rambunctious characters, teamed with rejuvenated comic sketches and balanced with fine casting and spot-on timing and delivery.

The all-Australian cast is more than up to the task.

Cleese searched for and handpicked his Basil in seasoned actor Stephen Hall (who played all the John Cleese roles in the 2007 Australian premiere season of Spamalot).

But he had big shoes to fill in Cleese's signature role.

Few actors can pull off the exhaustingly frustrating Basil Fawlty and his acerbic wit and manic actions with such gusto.

Rather than an impersonation, Hall brings his own sustained idiocy to the (dining) table, as Basil says and does to infuriating people what we wish we could in real life.

And Hall's long, thin legs goose-stepping across the stage - with two fingers in a Hitler moustache-like salute - in the scene from "The Germans" is a crack-up.

They say imitation is the best form of flattery and Syd Brisbane's portrayal of Manuel is a fine tribute to the memory of the original star, Andrew Sachs.

Actions always speak louder than words and Brisbane's Manuel mannerisms, line delivery, confused pauses and bent-over, subordinate walk are well-crafted.

A wiggle of a finger in the "I know nothing" scene is all that it takes to endear him to the audience.

Blazey Best is Sybil to a T, down to her trademark screeching "Basil!", streak of white hair at the front of her bouffant hairdo, glaring looks and "oh, I know" line that has entered our vernacular.

Aimee Horne is a dead-ringer for Polly (originally played by Booth in the TV series) in every sense.

The "shut up" sketch with her and Basil - alternately bobbing up and down, either side of the spoon salesman Basil thinks is the hotel inspector - has us in stitches.

And we couldn't have asked any more of Paul Bertram as The Major - the forgetful David Niven-like English gentleman and retired military man.

But one of the stand-outs was Deborah Kennedy as the hard-of-hearing Mrs Richards - one of Australia's hardest-working actors and recognisable faces, most recently known as Doris Collins in Seven Network's A Place To Call Home.

Her expressions, her headmistress-style demeanour and stern-faced ability to stand up to Basil are a joy to behold.

Cleese, in a message in the show program, says the idea for the stage adaptation had been hatched when the remaining Monty Pythons came together for their 10 sold-out shows in London in 2014.

"Creative people by nature do not often live in the past and though there have been many suggestions to revisit Fawlty Towers in the years since the last episode was filmed, it was never something that held any interest for me," he writes.

But thankfully, as Manuel from Barcelona would say, the project arrived "even-tually!".

Ranger says she was aware there would be high expectation and decided to "approach the text with fresh eyes looking for delicate ways to make sure the live adaptation would not only deliver to expectation but would also create a freshness for the theatre and a reality for any new audience".

She succeeded on both counts.

It's laugh-out loud funny and even today can surprise us in a good way with its slapstick-style violence, unexpected craziness and English absurdity.

So, sure, you can head out to a theatre restaurant-style Fawlty Towers that doesn't quite cut it but still chuckle here and there.

Yes, you can stay at home and watch re-runs to your heart's content in your lounge room.

But the theatre setting allows us to share those memories and the laughter en masse (and giggle along with the person next to you who may be experiencing it for the first time).

It allows us to embrace being non-PC in a sometimes frustratingly PC world.

For fans, it's unmissable.

For newcomers, you won't be sorry.

In Mrs Richards' own words: "This is a madhouse" - and one worth checking into.

Just don't mention the war...

Fawlty Towers Live is playing at Playhouse, QPAC, for four weeks only from December 28. Book at

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