Charley’s Aunt - theatre review

Posted by Gareth Hargreaves

Brandon Thomas's 1892 play, Charley's Aunt, still offers a hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre! Writes Laurence Green.

Charley's Aunt starring Matthew Horne and Jane AsherOne of the most enduring and best loved farces of all time, namely Brandon Thomas’s 1892 play Charley’s Aunt is back in a sparkling new production, directed by Ian Talbot, at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

The Charley’s Aunt of the title, wealthy widow Lucia d’Alvadorez, is arriving from Brazil and the timing couldn’t be better. Her presence as a chaperone will allow Oxford undergraduate Charley Wykeham and his friend Jack Chesney to ask their respective true loves, Amy and Kitty, for their hands in marriage. But time is passing and there is no sign of Charley’s Aunt. On learning that she will be delayed by several days they blackmail their eccentric friend, Lord Fancourt Babberley, who has a taste for theatricals and a dress in his bag to save their romantic plans and pose as Donna Lucia. Babberley is at first outraged that his friends have forced him to undertake such a risky and risqué impersonation and, panic-stricken and trembling with terror, he opens his mouth to speak but no words come out. Gradually, though, he starts to relish his role – the girls pet and kiss him, thinking he is a sweet, safe old aunt, and it is not long before he begins to actually believe that he is a woman. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, the real aunt arrives.

This lively Victorian three-act farce combines moments of wild absurdity with a striking picture of the corrupting effects of greed and although the plot is intricate and comic, it doesn’t bear much scrutiny. But it manages to be consistently funny, although I could have done without the joke “I’m Charley’s Aunt from Brazil where the nuts come from!” being repeated several times.

Paul Farnsworth’s lavish, eye-opening set credit a true sense of reality.

Gavin & Stacey star Mathew Horne is a treat as the fake aunt, skipping about in a dress, writhing and simpering and being able to register so much without seeming to move a facial muscle, while Dominic Tighe impresses as his student friend. Jane Asher brings both style and conviction as the unexpectedly, young looking real aunt, while Steven Pacey is spot-on Donna Lucia and is in desperate search of a rich wife, and Norman Pace raises many laughs as a middle-aged lawyer forever chasing Charley’s Aunt.

This show may be daft beg and belief but it certainly provides a hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre!

Charley’s Aunt

Menier Chocolate Factory
Box office : 020 7278 1713 (A meal deal is offered which comprises a two-course pre-theatre supper and ticket for the show for £39.50)

Runs until November 10

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