Travels with my AuntPosted on: 17 May 2013 by Laurence Green
Laurence Green enjoys a two-hour dramatic odyssey without ever leaving his seat at Menier Chocolate Factory, London.
An anarchic comedy of innocence and experience gets an ingenious twist in Giles Havergal’s staging of Graham Greene’s 1969 novel Travels With My Aunt (Menier Chocolate Factory), directed by Christopher Luscombe.
Henry Pulling, a retired bank manger with a fondness for growing dahlias meets the flamboyant, eccentric septuagenarian Aunt Agatha (of the title) at his mother’s funeral. She sweeps him away from his dull suburban life into her world of strange liaisons from a black cinema commissionaire from Tooting called Wordsworth to a long-lost war criminal named Visconti. Henry’s globetrotting adventures with his aunt take them to Istanbul on the Orient Express and later to Paraguay, with the unlikely pair discovering colourful characters and the possibilities that life conjures up in the most unusual of places.
Havergal’s coup here is to have four actors playing host of characters but sharing the role of Henry, through whose eyes the plot is narrated. The people we meet en route include cooks, racketeers, spies, Turkish policemen, a simpering teenage hippie and her dad, an uptight CIA man.
The cast is strong with Jonathan Hyde slipping effortlessly into the role of the grand Aunt Agatha, a woman of rapacious sexual appetites and a casual disregard for money or conventional morality, while David Bamber is perfect as Pulling, her nephew, a man of fussy, puffy agitation, and he is also especially good at playing adolescent girls. Iain Mitchell has a more resonant quality but overdoes it a bit as Wordsworth, while Gregory Gudgeon brings deft touches to an array of small parts that range from a Paraguayan palm reader to Irish wolfhound. All manage to bring vividly to life Greene’s prose and the people he so eloquently describes.
Another striking aspect of this production is Colin Falconer’s atmospheric set split between a 1960s railway station adorned with a waiting room, lost property office and illuminated board showing arrivals and departures, redolent of an age when rail travel was considered romantic and adventurous.
To its disadvantage the plot becomes complex and meandering at times and the humour feels rather strained.
But most of it is very funny and indeed there is much to enjoy in this two hour dramatic odyssey, from which you emerge feeling you have been half way round the world without actually leaving your seat!
Runs until June 29 at Menier Chocolate Factory
Box office: (020) 7378 173
(A special meal deal is offered which includes two-course pre-theatre plus show for £35.50 - £39.00)
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