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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Travels With My Aunt
Menier Chocolate Factory  May-June 2013

This is a determinedly nice show, gentle and genteel, with just the slightest hints of naughtiness in its humour and the slightest hints of theatrical experiment in its staging, but nothing to frighten and nothing to over-excite. 

I can find very little negative to say about it but, as you are beginning to gather, very little to be enthusiastic about. 

Graham Greene's light-hearted novel follows a quiet little retired banker as his very unconventional aunt drags him around the world and shakes him up so that he begins to take encounters with a lovesick black pot dealer, a blissed-out American hippie, an Italian war criminal, a jolly CIA agent and the like in his stride, ending up as the happy partner in a South American smuggling operation. 

In creating a stage version in 1989, Giles Havergal took the audacious step of omitting the titular aunt or at least the female role. Three actors take turns playing the hero and Everyone Else, with one of them switching to a wavering falsetto from time to time to be the aunt (A fourth actor plays bit parts and hands out props as needed). 

That sharing and switching of roles is the bit of unorthodox theatricality I alluded to earlier, and as directed here by Christopher Luscombe it is always smooth and polished, with never the slightest risk of confusing the audience.

Indeed, that's one of the minor disappointments of this production. This sort of comedy, with a small cast doubling and redoubling roles to fill the stage with characters, is an established genre every Edinburgh Fringe has at least a couple of examples but part of the fun is the spectre of impending chaos as the fast-paced changes threaten to spin out of the performers' control. 

Here, everything is so clearly so fully under control that there is not the hint of danger. It's an odd sort of complaint, but it is possible for a show to be too polished. 

The three veteran character actors clearly enjoy and are clearly not stretched an inch giving their individual stamp to their turns as the central character. David Bamber makes him the essence of ordinariness, Jonathan Hyde is more crisp and businesslike as narrator and Iain Mitchell anchors him in an earthiness that hints at the capacity for growth and change. 

Meanwhile Hyde turns all fluttery as the aunt who might actually see herself as more feminine and conventional than she is, and all three adeptly create and drop instant characterisations as Various Others. 

The overall impression is of everyone involved, from novelist through adaptor, director and actors using their expertise without raising a sweat, creating a bit of light entertainment that is as forgettable as it is easy to take all you may want from an evening at the theatre.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Travels With My Aunt - Menier 2013   

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