Oldes College, Oxford, 1929 – Jack Chesney loves Miss Kitty Verdun and Charley Wykeham loves Miss Amy Spettigue. They invite the ladies to meet Charley’s wealthy aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez from Brazil, so that she can chaperone the young ladies while the lads woo them. However, when she cancels her visit at the last minute, the millionaire aunt sends the boys into complete panic and perplexity. What do they do now? The problem is solved by drafting their feckless Oxford undergraduate friend, Lord Fancourt ‘Babbs’ Babberley, into their plans and persuading him to dress in his amateur dramatic costume: as ‘Charley’s Aunt’, this charming frump is introduced to the ladies, to Jack’s father and to Stephen Spettigue, Amy’s uncle and Kitty’s guardian. Then Charley’s real aunt turns up and classic comic confusion ensues… what could possibly go wrong?!
It has been a few years since I have last reviewed a play at Salisbury’s Studio Theatre – I have very fond memories of previous productions there and I must confess that I did wonder if my memories might be playing tricks on me and that the affectionate recollections I held might be misguided, but I was very, very quickly reminded of the qualities that have endeared this company to me in the past.
Charley’s Aunt was originally performed in 1892, but Studio Theatre have created a production that places the action firmly in the 1920s, the perfect era to depict the comedy and farce that is an integral part of Brandon Thomas’ play and makes it very accessible to a modern-day audience.
Director Ros Liddington has ensured that this production is fast paced, slick and full of dynamic characters, visual slapstick, attention to detail and has overseen such a very entertaining production, with many genuinely “laugh out loud” moments for the audience to enjoy, that the very occasional prompts tonight are completely forgivable! The simple, yet effective, set design is beautifully set out in monochrome with touches and splashes of colour which creatively reflects the way that “design and colour was infiltrating the home” at the end of the First World War and into the glitzy ‘20s, which Liddington refers to in her programme notes; this is enhanced by an array of costumes that also appear to beautifully capture the style of the ‘Roaring ‘20s’.
Liddington has cast a mixture of experienced and debut actors in the roles; with the programme cast biographies being written as their characters (also in a very traditional style, with all the actors and production team being addressed as Mr or Miss), it is impossible to identify precisely what level of experience each actor holds, but even those who appear slightly more inexperienced show a large amount of promise for future development, which I am sure will happen as this company is known for nurturing new talent.
Fraser Adams is mesmerising as Jack, full of charm combined with arrogance, quick-thinking and scheming, with tremendous stage presence, focus, characterisation, excellent vocal dynamics, projection and diction, and with a flair for comic timing and energy in abundance. He is almost matched by Kris Hamilton, very funny as Babbs and hilarious in drag as Charley’s Aunt from Brazil, “where the nuts come from”, although would benefit from more use of falsetto when speaking in disguise to Jack and Charley’s visitors to complete the illusion. The brilliantly choreographed and executed initial meeting between Adams and Hamilton’s characters show how much physical comic timing the pair enjoy, as well as with their dialogue delivery.
Emma Way commands the stage when she appears as the authentic Donna Lucia, with admirable comic talent and absorbing characterisation. Fabia Alexander is engaging as Jack’s love, Kitty, bringing subtlety, style and charm to her performance, depicting her character’s steely determination beneath her genteel manners, while Emilia Fletcher is full of grace and sparkle as Babbs’ long-lost love and companion of Charley’s ‘real’ aunt.
Charley’s Aunt opens the new season of Studio Theatre productions – if the rest of the season is of a similar calibre to this, then their audiences are in for a season of real treats: be sure you don’t miss out!
Runs continues 3 – 6 October: 7:30pm nightly, 2:30pm matinée on 6 October, with a Talk Out on Thursday 4 October and Gala Night on Friday 5 October.