Harvey Robinson (foreground) as Babbs with Matthew Townshend and Katherine Senior in Creative Cow's production of Charley's Aunt
Lighthouse, Poole. May 15-16th 2013
Belting along with wit and verve, this timely revival of the old Brandon Thomas favourite Charley’s Aunt is just the tonic that theatre-goers need during a cold, miserable summer.
Mixing this curious cocktail - one large measure of period drama, a dash of genteel comedy of manners finished off with a big splash of knockabout farce - is a fine art. Creative Cow Theatre Company clearly know how to serve it to perfection.
Using a simple but effective set this production staged in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre whisks us back to late 19th century Oxford where we find wealthy lovestruck undergraduates Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham scheming to woo the girls of their dreams.
A luncheon party seems a cracking idea but is unthinkable without a chaperone. News that Charley’s long lost aunt is arriving from Brazil (“Where the nuts come from”) seems to solve their problem. But disaster strikes when the Aunt delays her travel plans. The desperate pair persuade reluctant fellow student, Lord Fancourt Babberly - Babbs to his friends - to don a dress and wig and act as a stand-in.
A superb cast featuring Harvey Robinson as Babbs, Jonathan Parish as Jack and Mark Smedley as Charley make joyous work of the ensuing chaos. Meanwhile Katherine Senior and Kate Sharp are hilarious as Kitty and Amy, the innocent young ladies they have designs on. Both actresses double up with other roles. Senior as the real Aunt is haughtily imperious and astonished to discover that a cigar-smoking imposter has borrowed her identity. While Sharp plays Ela Delahay, a one-time sweetheart of Fancourt Babberly, as disarmingly puzzled to find herself strangely attracted to Charley’s distinctly masculine bogus aunt.
Adding to the wonderful mixture of confusion and coincidence are Jack’s father Sir Francis Chesney and Amy’s guardian the loathsome Mr Spettigue. Before long both men - played by Matthew Townshend - are vying for the attentions of Babbs believing him to be an exotic millionaire widow. Townshend does a fine job switching seamlessly between roles using body language and slight changes of costume to great affect. He also appears as the student’s long-suffering but wiley man-servant Brassett.
Director Amanda Knott has done a fine job distilling the timeless physical comedy of this boisterous romp into a light-hearted drama that speaks fluently to a 21st century audience.
*Creative Cow’s production of Charley’s Aunt completes its two day run at Lighthouse with two performances today (Thursday May 16) a 2.30pm matinee and and 8.00pm performance this evening.