Faulty Towers The Dining Experience began in Brisbane on 24 April 1997. From humble beginnings it now features nine teams of performers and has just finished a debut performance in Singapore – the 26th country it has been to.
To celebrate this special day, what better than to talk to Alison Pollard-Mansergh, the woman who is the driving force behind the company and show.
Hi Ali, have you always wanted to run your own business?
APM: No! My intention had simply been to make some acting work for myself. I’d moved to Brisbane, Australia from New Zealand, and when I couldn’t get an agent because of my New Zealand accent, I decided to do something that would keep me going for a few months while I developed an Australian one. I met Andy Foreman, a really talented performer and writer, and along with a third performer, we started working together.
You’ve created this show from nothing and it’s now 18 years old and performed around the world: how have you managed to have raise five children and survive two bouts of cancer at the same time?
APM: I laugh a lot! I’m not a wonder-woman just a really normal person who has had a huge amount of support. My husband has encouraged me from day one. Every single person who has worked in the company has contributed to the success of the show. I could never have done it alone.
Why did you think of doing a Fawlty Towers tribute show, specifically?
APM: I knew it would work, plus I could already do the Sybil laugh!
Did the Dining Experience idea come up at the beginning or did it come up later on?
APM: It was always based around a dinner. Between 1992 and 1996 I worked in a corporate theatre company in New Zealand, and many groups asked for entertainment during their conference dinners. Along with comedy waiters, singing chefs and other themes, Fawlty Towers characters mingling with the guests throughout the evening was a popular choice. This was the basis of the show that we started in 1997.
What are the core values of Interactive theatre International and of FTTDE in particular?
APM: Immersive, site-specific comedy is a passion of mine, so that’s what ITI is built to accommodate – not just for FTTDE but also for other shows we have in production currently. And you can’t get more immersive and site-specific than FTTDE!
Let’s talk about the new show, The Wedding Reception…
APM: I’m really excited about it. It premieres at Brighton Fringe from 1 May and it’s the first time that we’re touring the UK with a brand new show. It’s another immersive experience that people will easily relate to. All cultures are familiar with weddings. It will be fun to adapt TWR as we tour around the world.
You have performed the role of Sybil since the very start. Does she have something in common with you?
APM: For that, you’d better ask my husband but I guess so! As Peter often says to me: ‘Thank you Sybil, can I talk to Ali now?!’ (Laugh) Sometimes I even find myself speaking in an English accent and saying: ‘Oooh, I knooow.’
Why have you decided to stop acting the role of Sybil?
APM: I’ve been walking in Sybil’s shoes since 1992. With nine teams of Faulty Towers performers to manage, and developing new shows, I want to focus now on growing the company. Besides which, Sybil is a physically-demanding role. I will possibly play her again in the future, on special occasions and… at the fanciest venues! (Laugh)
The company has accomplished many things since 1997: 18 years of touring, enthusiastic feedback and reviews, participation in the most important arts festivals in the world. What are the next goals?
APM: The London West End residency was a big one. I set that goal in 2008 when we first appeared in the UK. I gave myself five years to achieve it, and we opened in October 2012. The next milestone was North America, and we’ve just done a very successful showcase in New York as well as a three-month stint at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto; my aim for the US, though, is a spot on Broadway or Madison Square Gardens… I’d like to celebrate the 20th birthday of the show (2017) by opening our residency on Broadway.
According to each singular personality, how would Basil, Sybil and Manuel celebrate this anniversary?
APM: I think Sybil would celebrate with a really good dinner, some nice wine, and enough friends so that she doesn’t have to sit next to Basil!
Basil would have had no idea that it was a birthday until Sybil reminded him.
Manuel would just be incredibly grateful that he had a job. I imagine that he would be attempting to serve the celebration dinner and spill something over Basil!