|"A witty and entertaining piece"|
by Jane McDowell for remotegoat on 10/12/07
Although Brandon Thomas's most successful and well-known play "Charley's Aunt" was written in the late 19th century, the years have not diminished its appeal. The play does not have the word play and elegant language of Thomas's contemporary Oscar Wilde, but it is nonetheless a witty and entertaining piece. It has been described as "the funniest farce ever written" and has enjoyed many stage and screen versions over the years. The first ever performance was at The Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds, opening on 21st December 1892 before transferring to The Globe Theatre and enjoying a record-breaking four year run with 1,466 performances. It achieved equal success on Broadway, has been made into a musical twice and filmed at least five times. It has also been performed in Russian, German and Danish.
Love and its complications preoccupy the main protagonists, although the social mores of the 19th century have changed beyond recognition to what is acceptable today. The problems that beset Charley Wykeham and Jack Chesney, two Oxford undergraduates, revolve around the fact that it was strictly forbidden in those days for young ladies to venture out in mixed company without a chaperone. Jack (Hugo Thurston) and Charley (William Findlay), about to graduate from Oxford and madly in love with Kitty (Lucie Dobbing) and Amy (Abigail Hood) respectively, are desperately seeking an opportunity to declare their love to the girls and need a suitable chaperone. Help arrives in the shape of long lost Aunt Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez (Carola Stewart) from Brazil "where the nuts come from", whom Charley has never met. Lunch is arranged with alacrity but when Aunt sends word that she has been delayed for several days, Jack and Charley find a replacement fast in the shape of fellow undergraduate Lord Fancourt Babberley "Babs" (Jos Vantyler) who has, providentially, thespianic tendencies and is in fact trying out a costume for a new play he is in - fortuitously the character is that of an older lady. When he dons the costume and character of "Aunt", the fun and confusion start in earnest and when the real Donna Lucia arrives from Brazil, the comedy reaches new heights of absurdity and hilarity.
Inspired by undergraduate eccentricities and life at University, it is set in the fictitious college St. Olde's College in Oxford. Logos Theatre's production is charming, energetic and at times frenetic. The three set changes are deftly handled in this small studio space of the New Wimbledon Studio which, because it is so small, lends a filmic quality to the performance which works very well. Lovely period costumes and expert lighting enhance the production although the upright piano in the Spettigue's drawing room in Act 3 was too obviously modern. There are elements of farce aplenty with frantic chases around and off the stage, pratfalls and double takes. The production sparkles in the farce set-pieces and one of the highlights is an expertly choreographed and executed "dance" between Jack, Charley and Babs and a leather case containing four bottles of (stolen) champagne which is tossed between them. So physical and nimble were the actors here that I was reminded of the work of DV8 in "Enter Achilles". The comedy in farce derives from text and situation and real people trapped in absurd situations. For period farce to work best, the acting and direction must be precise and subtle and the cast and director do not disappoint. The acting is detailed and believable even in the most heightened moments of absurdity. Particularly impressive are William Findlay as Charley who gives a truthful and touching performance, Carola Stewart who is dignified and elegant as Aunt Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez and Nigel Nobes who is extremely funny as ex military man Col. Sir Francis Chesney. However, it is Jos Vantyler as Lord Fancourt Babberley/Aunt Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez who steals the show in, it must be said, the best role in the play. He has sublime energy and comic timing and is blessed with a highly mobile face which is wonderfully expressive. He transforms voice and physicality seamlessly from drinking, cigar smoking masculinity to squeaky femininity. I am not sure if his variable accent (American, Brazilian?) was deliberate but it hardly mattered and only enhanced the comedy.
The evening was marred only by the annoying thump of loud music elsewhere in the building and talking at the beginning of the play outside the auditorium.
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