Charley’s Aunt

Written by Brandon Thomas
Directed by Paul Morgan
Presented by Alsop Drama Group
Unity Theatre (11th-13th May 2006)

Reviewed by Helen Grey

‘Charley’s Aunt’ was first performed over one hundred years ago, in 1892 at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. The Victorian farce - written by the Liverpool born playwright Brandon Thomas - then moved to the London Royalty Theatre in December 1892, shortly before the play was taken to Broadway where it ran for four years. It has been translated into several languages, and until the early 1930s a week did not pass without a performance somewhere in the world. At one point an incredible forty-four performances of ‘Charley’s Aunt’ were running at the same time. The play has also been made into at least ten films.

Unfortunately the Alsop Drama Group’s version of this well-known and successful play was dismal. I do not take pleasure in verbally criticising the work of a local theatre company but this was probably one of the worst pieces of theatre I have seen. Among the catalogue of disasters that made up this play were actors forgetting lines, appalling direction and poor use of the theatre’s space.

The play follows the story of Charles Wykeham and Jack Chesney - two young upper class men - as they attempt to woo their sweethearts Amy Spettigue and Kitty Verdun. The two men lure the ladies to lunch on the basis that Charley’s aunt from Brazil will be there to chaperone. Unfortunately for the men Charley’s aunt is delayed and so they recruit the skills of their friend Lord Fancourt Babberly, who dresses up as the aunt – Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez – and impersonates her for the duration of the action. Enter Jack’s father and the young ladies’ guardian Sir Stephen Spettigue, who fall for the “feminine” charms of the aunt. The play really gets going when the actual Donna Lucia arrives. Or so it should.

From the very beginning the acting was so poor that a friend described it as kindling - so wooden you could light a fire with it. Two actors repeatedly forgot their lines and had to be prompted from off stage, and when they did manage to remember them the delivery was dire. It appeared that the cast were concentrating so much on getting the lines out that all acting skills were forgotten. There was no interaction between the characters and it seemed as if we were watching a very poor read through. The entire cast didn’t seem to know how to use the space, as they continually paced up and down the stage when speaking. It felt as if the cast had been given no solid direction on where they should stand and how best to express themselves, and at times the stage set up was so poorly designed that it impeded the play’s action.

It was impossible to suspend my disbelief during this play and it’s the first production I have ever left feeling embarrassed for the actors. I do admit I did laugh a few times, but I get the feeling it wasn’t for the intended reasons.

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