Charley’s Aunt

by Brandon Thomas; dir Richard Collett
Priory Theatre, Kenilworth
4 – 14 July 2012

The farce Charley’s Aunt is certainly an old favourite, still regularly performed 120 years after writing. Two Oxford undergraduates, Jack and Charles, persuade a third, Babbs, to impersonate Charles’ rich aunt in order to arrange a liaison with their sweethearts. The plan is soon spoilt by the arrival of Jack’s father and the girls’ guardian, both of whom try to court the aunt because of her wealth.

The cast certainly played with gusto, in fact a bit too much of it. While the character of Babbs playing the Aunt, should be larger than life – and indeed was – the other characters ought to be more realistic to create a good contrast. What we got instead was a stage populated with a large number of over-the-top stereotypes. I felt this lost the humour of the story somewhat, as though the director didn’t have faith enough in the written script to cause laughter.

This was probably mostly noticeable in the leading characters of Jack (Ben Wellicome) and Charles (Mike Brooks) who are the characters we should identify with in their struggles to be united with their loves. Ben, in particular, spent most of his time appearing to give a music-hall recital directly to the audience rather than being a character in the actual play. As for the valet Brassett, Nigel Parker gave a most extraordinarily quirky rendition that seemed totally out of place.

Dean Stevens-Mullis, as Babbs, played his part well, although as mentioned, this was swamped somewhat by the characters around him, which is a shame. Ashleigh Dickinson, as Jack’s sweetheart Kitty, showed real promise and most of the rest of the cast played acceptably if not outstandingly. All that is, except Charlotte Froud as the real Aunt, who turns up in Act Two (this is a three-act play by the way). Charlotte played with such realism and charm that she stood out like a beacon and was a delight to see.

Overall though, it was difficult to laugh along with and not really worth all the effort.

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