Adelaide Fringe

Interview: Jack Newell – Interactive Dining Returns To The Fringe

Jack Newell is returning home to perform in two interactive dining experiences this Fringe

Well-known Fringe favourite, Interactive Theatre International, has a massive year coming up in 2024. Their celebrated Faulty Towers The Dining Experience celebrates its 27th year of touring worldwide and the show has grown into one of Australia’s greatest theatre exports. Faulty Towers The Dining Experience will be making its triumphant return to the Fringe this week for the 17th year, as will their chaotic wedding dinner show, Confetti & Chaos.

South Australia’s own Jack Newell has been working with Interactive Theatre International for several years as both the legendary Basil in Faulty Towers The Dining Experience as well as Will/Marvin in Confetti & Chaos. Jack recently spoke to Glam Adelaide’s Arts Editor, Ben Stefanoff, about both shows as well as what drew him to forge a career in the performing arts industry.

“It’s actually a funny story. My twin brother, Alex, and I were doing karate and then there was an open spot in the Hills Youth Theatre in Stirling. We decided to jump from karate to drama and it wasn’t long before we worked out that we liked being the centre of attention in class. We caught the theatre bug. As teenagers there was something about the costumes, the makeup and being on stage that was amazing. We did The Jungle Book and Aladdin, where my brother and I were two genies of all things. I also remember doing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest with a brilliant director. There was something about how she worked with us that was so relatable. I learnt a lot doing that show. From there, we pursued drama at uni and here I am today!”

There is nothing quite like performing in your home town.

“The difference between working in Sydney and Adelaide is insane. Sydney is a huge city, a melting pot of cultures with a lot of people. But then Adelaide It’s a lot more relaxed. People are a lot more easy going. I genuinely feel the audiences in Sydney are great, but the audiences in Adelaide seem a bit more relaxed about the interactive name of the title of our shows. They get into it more. Also Adelaide Fringe audiences –– I don’t know what it is, but there’s amazing energy about them.”

This year marks 27 years of Interactive Theatre International touring Faulty Towers The Dining Experience. It is a loving tribute to Fawlty Towers, the BBC TV series written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, where you, the audience, are thrown into the world of Basil and Sybil, all whilst enjoying a three-course meal. We asked Jack what it is about the dining experience that delights audiences worldwide.

“There is something magical about the original TV series that people just love. Then when they rock up to see Faulty Towers The Dining Experience, they are met by Basil, Sybil and Manuel and it instantly becomes real for them. You are transported back to their hotel in the 1970s and you are thrown into their chaos. It’s a lot of fun, you get a wonderful three course meal and you are a part of Faulty Towers. About 60% of the show is scripted, the rest is improvised. The script really pays homage and tribute to the source material. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but you’ve got so many tributes to so many episodes in there.”

Jack shared with us what it’s like playing such a recognisable character night after night.

“A few weeks ago we were in Hong Kong performing in the Hong Kong Club, and there was a guy that walked over to me at the end wearing a bow tie and vest — the most English looking guy you could imagine. He told me he was seeing John a week from now and was going to tell him how good this show was. It took me a few moments to work out he meant he was seeing the actual John Cleese. When people come and see Faulty Tower, they come to see Basil Faulty, exactly as John Cleese played it. So while we do put our own slight spin to the characters, to try to honour and respect the original character as best we can.”

With both Faulty Towers The Dining Experience and Confetti & Chaos being interactive dining experiences, there is guaranteed audience participation, and you never know what the audience will throw at the cast.

“You get really good at reading body language. There’s the audience member who’s sitting in their chair, leaning forward, staring at their menu. That person does not want to be interacted with at all. Then you’ve got the other extremity — the person that’s basically hovering above their chair with energy, trying to get our attention. You kind of don’t want to throw them a bone either, because you feel like if you give them the ball, they’re going to run with it and you’re never going to get it back again. You’ve got to try and find the middle ground. So it’s like someone who’s eagerly watching, looks on their face that they want to participate or they’re happy to be there. You kind of throw them something and they throw it back, and you get really good at improvising, taking what they have given you and making something out of it.”

Confetti & Chaos has only been performed in Adelaide twice, but it is loved just as much as Faulty Towers The Dining Experience.

“The show is so much more freeing to perform because you’re not constrained by pre-written characters. With Faulty, you’ve got Manuel, Sybil and Basil — you have to conform to those. In Confetti & Chaos, no one really has any expectations of who these people are going to be. You have quite a lot of creative freedom to take that character in whatever direction you want to. Since doing the show in Adelaide for the first time two years ago, we’ve really honed in on the scripted parts of it. We’ve looked at what works and thrown out what doesn’t work. It’s really, I believe, gotten to a point now where it’s the best it has ever been.”

Faulty Towers The Dining Experience will feature Cameron Hurry & Jed McKinney as Basil, Gemma Drummond as Sybil and Adrian Espulso & Sean Harrison as Manuel. It will be running between February 16 and March 10 at various times at The Terrace Hotel, South Terrace. Get in quick – several performances are sold out.

Confetti & Chaos will feature Monique Lewis-Reynolds as Lynn / Mel, Jack Newell as Marvin / Will, Matthew Robson as Ray / Ricky and Rebecca Fortuna as Vikki / Stacey / Val.

It will be running between March 2 and 10 at 7pm daily at Adelaide Royal Coach.

Photo credit: Morgan Sette

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