Charley’s Aunt – April 2007

8/10

By: Brandon Thomas

Directed by: Mel Smith

Venue: Theare Royal, Brighton

Date: Monday 30th April 2007

This was our first chance to see Stephen Tompkinson dressed in a frock (apart from his priest days, of course). It was great fun, and interesting to see how well the piece still worked. At least, most of it did – the “where the nuts come from” was treated as an old chestnut from the word go, and the whole cast braced themselves very entertainingly each time one hove into view.

The set and costumes were all excellent. With three acts, and completely different settings for each one, the set itself had to be very adaptable. Even so, the changes took a little longer than expected, judging by the slight extensions to each interval. Not a problem, though, and the results were well worth it. The chaps looked average, the women elegant, and the first Charley’s aunt suitably grotesque.

I’d forgotten the plot (we last saw this back in 1987?), but it didn’t take long to pick it up. Mel Smith’s direction is always excellent; he’s good with the physical stuff as well as the gags, and the pace never let up. The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves too, and Stephen Tompkinson must be keeping well fit, throwing himself around as he does.

All the performances were good. I particularly liked the real aunt, played by Marty Cruickshank, as she had a good sense of humour which adds to the fun – she’s only too happy to wind up her impersonator with stories of the dead husband. I found myself wondering whether this play was written before or after The Importance Of Being Earnest, as they’re so similar in format.

Regardless of that, the whole production was very enjoyable, and we had a great evening.

P.S.    Having read a newspaper review, I’m reminded that Stephen Tompkinson did a great job of showing the softer side of his character, in a scene where the woman he loves dearly, and to whose father he deliberately lost all of his money, reveals her love for him, not knowing that she’s speaking directly to the man she loves. His real discomfort at having to hear this desired yet unwanted confession was very moving, and all the more commendable coming in the midst of a lot of funny business, such as the cigar smoking, and setting light to the furniture.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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