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

An Hour And A Half Late – October 2006

Experience: 10/10

By Gerard Sibleyras with Jean Dell, adapted by Mel Smith

Directed by Tamara Harvey

Theatre Royal Bath Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 19th October 2006

          Adapted by and starring Mel Smith, that’s mouth-watering enough as it is. Also with Belinda Lang, even better. And then add a superb relationship comedy. What more could we have wanted?

Nothing really. There was so much humour in this that I can’t possibly cover it all, so just (some of) the highlights. There was lot of laughter for the wife’s first three entrances. The husband is obviously waiting for her to finish getting ready, and she appears first in one top, then goes back into the bedroom, appearing a few moments later in another top, then goes off to another room, re-enters the bedroom, and comes back out in ….. the first top again! All of this was accompanied by Mel Smith’s wonderful expressions.

The wife wants to talk. She’s feeling old and useless, not helped by her husband’s lack of sympathy. He wants to get to an important celebration dinner being hosted by the man who’s buying him out of his business, thereby making him very rich. He’s also the man the husband’s worked with for twenty years, so it made sense at the time for the husband to tell his colleague about his wife’s unfaithfulness. The unfaithfulness, she now admits, which was a lie, designed to give their flagging marriage a boost. It succeeded, but now the husband is shocked to find out his wife hasn’t slept with another man, and she’s shocked to find out he told his colleague she had! (Apparently it helped the colleague’s sex life in his marriage.)

It’s a lovely comedy that points up the differences in approach and attitude between men and women. At one point she’s disheartened to realise she’s now a granny. His thought is that it’ll be his first time with a granny. When he complains about her obsessive tidiness, she tells him to spill his drink, and, reluctantly, he does. This triggers a mad session of hurling food, objet d’art and pot plants about the place. It’s a very stylish flat they live in, by the way, which makes it even more fun. Afterwards, they consider ways to restore their sex life, and he comes up with the squeaky floorboard idea – they’ll sleep in separate bedrooms, now their last child has flown the nest, and prowl to each other’s rooms, making the floorboards squeak as they go to heighten the anticipation. This is a very funny scene, as they try out all the squeaky floorboards they can find.

Eventually, this all calms down, and the wife is in a much better mood. She disappears off upstairs, and this time she reappears in her little black number, dolled up to the nines, and ready to go to the celebration dinner, an hour and a half late!

I can’t convey all the wonderful humour that was in this production. Much of it is in the performance, of course, but there were many great lines, and the overall construction was great. It’s been well adapted – although the ‘Frenchness’ of the play was still discernible, it worked well in a contemporary London setting. I will definitely see this play again when I get the chance.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me