The Theatreguide.London Review
Menier Chocolate Factory and touring Autumn 2012
The granddaddy of English farces may creak a bit with age, but it's still remarkably spry for a centenarian-plus, and only the most determinedly glum could resist its delights.
Brandon Thomas set the pattern for most modern British farces (as opposed to the thwarted-adultery French model) in 1890 by beginning with a relatively innocent little lie which then requires ever-more elaborate deceits and ever-more-frantic stratagems to preserve until the whole thing threatens to spin out of control.
A pair of Oxford undergraduates (Dominic Tighe and Benjamin Askew) want to spend the afternoon with their respective ladies (Leah Whitaker and Ellie Beaven) but propriety requires a chaperone.
Fortunately one has a rich aunt, who he's never met, due to visit. Unfortunately she doesn't show up. Fortunately fellow student Fancourt Babberley (Mathew Horne) is a bit of an amateur actor and has an old lady's costume handy, and bob's your uncle – or, rather, Fanny's your aunt.
But then two older gentlemen are attracted to the lady's money, if not her face, and the boys still have trouble being alone with their sweethearts, and then the real aunt does appear.
The centre of the play lies in this obvious guy-in-drag working desperately to fool everybody, elude the clutches of the amorous elders, arrange things for his buddies and, as he begins to get into the swing of things, keep reminding himself that he isn't actually Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez from Brazil ('where the nuts come from').
Around the comic edges are the quartet of frustrated young lovers, the dirty old men and the amused real Donna Lucia – and just to complicate matters, she's accompanied by the girl young Babberley loves.
Stir briskly and just keep bubbling – and if there is any small criticism to make of Ian Talbot's direction it is that it is occasionally a bit too stately in its pacing. Frantic panic is of the essence in this sort of farce, and while Mathew Horne is delightfully comic when his character gets caught up in his own impersonation, we could use a little more (and, to be honest, could never get too much) of his racing about in mounting confusion.
Tighe and Askew are satisfactory straight men, but the roles of Whitaker, Beaven and Charlie Clemmow are written as little more than eye candy, which the ladies provide nicely. Steven Pacey and Norman Pace are amusing as the older men, Charles Kay droll as the obligatory unflappable servant, and Jane Asher wise, witty and painfully beautiful as Charley's real aunt.
The perfect cure for the lousiest of moods, Charley's Aunt might just possibly be even funnier in a sharper production, but asking for that would be just too greedy.
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Review - Charley's Aunt - Menier Chocolate Factory 2012