Blancheblanche marvin's london theatreviews

recommended by Peter Brook
**** = stand if necessary
*** = sit in front stalls
** = sit in back stalls
* = have a drink!
director IAN TALBOT deecor PAUL FARNSWORTH lights JASON TAYLOR sound DAVY OGILVY with DOMINC TIGHE even jack’s father makes an attempt until the real aunt appears with her jack chesney, CHARLES KAY brassett butler, BENJAMIN ASKEW charley whykeham, MATHEW HORNE lord fancourt (babbs), LEAH WHITAKER kitty verdun, ELLIE BEAVEN amy spettigue, STEVEN PACEY col sir francis chesney, NORMAN PACE stephen spettigue, JANE ASHER donna lucia, CHARLIE CLEMMON ela delahay
Oxford undergraduates Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham are forced to induce their mate Lord Fancourt Babberley to help them achieve their romantic goal. They have invited their girls to lunch to be chaperoned by Charlie’s aunt. Charlie’s aunt is a rich widow from Brazil ‘where the nuts come from’. She doesn’t show up, but the girls do. Fancourt in showing off his costume for the character he is playing in the student production is then immediately opted for being Charlie’s aunt in his theatre costume. And that is the base of all the humour. The girl’s guardians try to seduce the rich but disguised widow, even Jack’s father. When the girls cotton on to the deception, they too play along with the game knowing full well love will conquer all. ……And then when Charlie’s real aunt appears, she creates her own incognoto. However, surprise, surprise, she brings with her Fancourt’s true love. So love makes this world go round …. it certainly twirls with this company. Charley’s Aunt opened in London in 1892, and ran for four years….it hasn’t stopped running since. Because of its obvious similarities, it is like a commercialised Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Wilde’s play is the masterpiece, copied by many. Charlie’s Aunt is the beautifully constructed farce that Billy Wilder used for his Some Like It Hot film. It is centred on the piffling Oxford undergraduate, Lord Fancourt Babberley, being bullied into dressing up as the elderly woman in order to provide his friends with a chaperone when they invite their two girls for lunch in their college rooms. It’s one of those great comic roles which actors and comedians have aspired to star in and is as famous as “from Brazil, where the nuts come from”. The list runs from Arthur Askey, John Mills, Frankie Howerd, to Griff Rhys Jones. The whole point of the comedy is that Babbs is a posh heterosexual dressed reluctantly as an old maid and not a drag-queen. Mathew Horne has a lot to live up to and comes out of it with flying colours. When dressed as an undergraduate, Horne is marvellously asinine, and when transforming into the aunt, he reflects the fun of being in comical heaven despite his initial panic and fear at risking his reputation. The glassy-eyed panic, the trembling mouth hardly able to speak suddenly switching to a sense of discovery is the buoyancy of the character. How he gradually begins to enjoy his role ….the girls kiss the old aunt, the men chase after him for his money, and by the end, Babbs is no longer acting the part but being it. When he receives a marriage proposal from the old guardian, he replies, “I could never be happy with a man like that”, and when he says, “I’m a disgrace to my sex” it’s hilarious. It’s the good-natured fun, the zany exchanges, the actual innocence about Horne that is so appealing with sudden moments that are actually moving. But it’s also the jubilant production directed by Ian Talbot with his amazing sense of timing, his understanding of the designed set, the detailed keeping in period that holds the uninterrupted attention so as to completely transfer oneself into that place at that time and slip along with the run of the characters. We are totally immersed in the humour without any hesitation. Paul Farnsworth’s set is superbly clever and inventive with three different palatial scenes that open the space of this usually cramped stage. The supporting performances of Jane Asher’s mischievously stylised real Charley’s Aunt, Steven Pacey’s posh old colonel in desperate need of a rich wife, Dominic Tighe’s and Benjamin Askew’s love-smitten undergraduates, Charles Kay’s melancholy college scout so off-handedly treated, the girlish glee of Leah Whitaker’s Kitty and Ellie Beaven’s Amy are all stunning performances. Charley’s Aunt may be old fashioned but by-god it’s a spinning stunner of hilarity... Import, import and export to the West End.
September 20 – November 10/12