Charley's Aunt

Date 20th April 2023
Society Winton Players
Venue Festival Hall, Petersfield
Type of Production Farce
Director Brenda Adams
Written By Brandon Thomas

Report

Author: Mark Donalds

Charley’s Aunt is a Victorian Farce by Brandon Thomas, which had its London debut in December 1892. The plot, involving two university students trying to woo the women they love but being thwarted by the lack money and a chaperone, is very much of its time, but it has been tweaked by Paul Thain for modern tastes, with some updates to the language. Thankfully he has not gone too far with the modernisation and the play still retains much of its original charm and humour.

A tremendous first act set – Jack’s college rooms - greeted us when the curtains went back. The Bodgers have excelled themselves again with this great box set, beautifully furnished and well lit (Simon Auty and Janet Auty of the Green A Team) and eliciting its own round of applause. The set for Act Two, in the college Quad, was equally impressive. Costumes throughout (thanks to Lesley Redstone) looked absolutely right for the period, especially the ladies’ dresses.

Director Brenda Adams has assembled a strong cast and been able to draw on the younger members of Winton Players so that the main roles are all played by people of the right age. Nikolai Gibbins and Matthew Bell looked just right as the two students, Jack and Charley, delivering an awful lot of dialogue at the start to get the plot moving but keeping the pace nice and brisk. Jez Austin gave a nicely judged caricature as their manservant Brassett, causing ripples of laughter each time he walked across the stage.

Objects of Jack and Charley’s affections, Amy, and Kitty, were portrayed by Becky Bedford and Karla Welch as delightfully demure but feisty young ladies, more than willing to get to know the boys better. As the two fathers, Steve Cliff as Sir Francis was every inch the old soldier from the days of the Raj, desperate to marry into money, while Ben Gander, solicitor Stephen Spettigue, was all bluster and outrage, very much in the mould of a Victorian melodrama villain (or Dick Dastardly)! Anne-Lise Kadri sailed majestically onto the stage in Act Two as the real Donna Lucia, managing to be domineering without being fierce. She was accompanied by Freya Gander as her niece Ella – beautifully serene.

Best performance of the evening, for me, was Ben Bedford as Lord Fancourt Babberley, forced to dress up as Charley’s Aunt and secure Mr Spettigue’s agreement to the girls marrying the boys. Ben has great stage presence and, despite delivering his dialogue in a very understated way, he commanded our attention and was utterly believable as he gambolled around the stage, his character becoming ever more embroiled in the plot.

The fascinating display of photos from your archives in the bar, the well-chosen quotations about laughter in the programme, and the warm welcome from your front of house people, were the icing on the cake of a delightful and entertaining evening. Thank you!