HOW can anyone ever recapture the essence of Basil Fawlty, this disturbed, dysfunctional work of comic genius?

Who out there could replicate his neurosis, the escape from truth behind the pre-war moustache, the simple wretchedness of being?

Well, Jonathan Hansler couldn’t have come up with a better Basil had he time- travelled back to Torquay (or rather BBC studios) in 1975).

The evidence of Hansler’s talent about to be witnessed in the dining room of an Edinburgh hotel in which the comedy performer and co-stars will serve up Fawlty Towers Live (the themed dining show - with a three course meal included in the ticket price).

Part of the Fringe Festival, the show is adapted from the original scripts by John Cleese and Connie Booth, played out during dinner.

Hansler’s Fawlty hits the spot from the moment he enters with his trousers at his ankles and begins to berate the guests. (The improv doesn’t impede the dining experience at all.) But how hard is it to step into Basil’s heavy brogues ? “You can’t help but realise you’re not only playing an icon created by a comedy genius and it’s terrifying,” he says in a voice as rapid as Basil’s exit on being caught out by his ‘great sabre-toothed tart’ of a wife.


Glasgow set for Fawlty Towers dining experience

“Yet, it’s brilliant at the same time because these extraordinary levels of madness creep up on you and take over.”

Hansler adds; “What’s so buoyant about the show is this mad anxiety the character has. What we don’t realise is the madness is all brought upon by fear. Basil is constantly terrified of everybody. He doesn’t want to be running this hotel. That’s why he’s so rude to everyone.”

Jonathan Hansler has clearly studied his character in depth. He’s a huge fan of John Cleese and in fact decided to enter the business after seeing an early comedy sketch feature Cleese and Peter Cook sitting on a park bench.

In recent years Hansler has also played Peter Cook in his own biographical theatre play Goodbye - The (After) Life of Cook and Moore. (Reprised in Dingwalls in Camden next month).

“I’ve always loved comedians more than actors,” he admits. “I’ve found them to be a lot more daring and they tend to live on the edge.”

He adds in slightly softer voice; “As I tend to do. And Peter Cook’s mind always informs me. When I do adlibs round the dining table as Fawlty they are often like Cook-isms.”

What Hansler loves about Cleese’s character and Cook is that both were so wonderfully non-PC. “Cleese loved to cock a snook and you have to laugh. This role is such a gift to a comic performer.”

How does he manage to sustain the Basil neck-vein-throbbing intensity which rarely lets up? “Well, I think you have to have a little of the Basil in you to be able to play the character,” he grins. “You need to have an anxiousness to reach those heights.”

It seems that Cleese tapped into his own anxiety and depression, which he has spoken of, to create the character. “I’m sure Peter Cook suffered from depression too. But comedy light often emerges from darkness. I think comedy allows us to breathe. It’s a way of coping with the world. And for me being able to turn myself into someone else has been my saving grace in a way.”


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Hansler had a demanding child hood. He grew up in the Middle East and then was sent (dumped) to a prep school in Dorset. “I don’t have a home. I feel a bit of a transient.” It’s not a surprise the comic performer/writer went into the business. Nor that he enjoyed a stint as a stand-up. “I love to make people happy.

“And I’m always working one something. I’m never idle. I’m currently working on a show called Canned Laughter; the idea is that canned laughter is fake. The show is about getting people to open up about what’s really in their head.”

What of John Cleese? Has he applauded his perfect Fawlty (and indeed the performances of Erin Leighton as Polly, David Boyle’s Manuel and Jess-Luisa Flynn’s Sybil?) “We’ve sent him videos of the show, but haven’t heard a comment yet.” What? We all need endorsement. “I know,” he bellows in full Basil Fawlty voice. “I need to be told I’m bloody good at this.”

You are, Jonathan. “Well thank you!” he yells, remaining in character right to the end.

The Fawlty Towers dinner show will run at The Hilton Edinburgh Carlton Aug 2 – 26.