Travels with my Aunt

Date 23rd October 2015
Society Cobham Players
Venue Cobham Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Brian Hulme
Musical Director N/A
Choreographer N/A

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This fascinating Graham Greene play adapted by Giles Havergal won an Olivier Award for best play in 1993.   It is a good choice for amateur groups, but a challenge for director and  actors alike.

Brian Hulme, the director, opened the proceedings by explaining to the audience that comprehensive scene changes were too numerous and impracticable, so he had wisely dispensed with them, working with minimal stage furniture - chairs, tables etc. brought on and off during the action.    The minimalist approach worked well and, with just eight actors playing over twenty characters between them, one had to keep up with the action!

Two Henry Pullings - Graham Budd and Richard Barrett - alternating as narrator and dovetailing with dexterity together with Aunt Augusta - Kim Groom - were the three leading players.   Kim was one of only two actors in this play playing just the one character and she was an highly effective Aunt Augusta, feisty, energetic, determined  - but elegantly amoral  throughout.  An extraordinary character, she was given total authenticity by an accomplished actress, shades of Joanna Lumley, but with Sally Bowles' and Mme Thenardier's morals - what a mixture!

Graham and Richard, similar in stature, carried great presence with clear and authoritative diction.   They slotted seamlessly through the many scenes and were on stage, separately or together almost throughout.   Both, through projecting their personalities retained believability as retired bachelor bank managers whose main passion was "tending dahlias".   I was disappointed to notice that Graham's Henry wore a ring and wristwatch, but the other, identically dressed Richard, did not.    No plausible explanation I think, except an oversight.

Henry is unwittingly drawn into his Aunt's louche and amoral lifestyle, travelling from her apartment to Brighton, Paris, Istanbul and Boulogne (to see his father's grave).    He eventually flies to Buenos Aires and embarks on a marathon river trip to Paraguay.   His journeys involve him in meeting and becoming entangled with various characters, some distinctly unsavoury but his real journey is the one to find his real self and his real mother who, unsurprisingly, turns out to be Aunt Augusta.

With a swift change of jacket, Richard Barrett also played his aunt's valet and bed partner, Wordsworth, with indeterminate accent and treated in cavalier fashion by Augusta.

Michael Dawes played several diverse cameos as a vicar, Richard Pulling (Henry's father in flashback), a hotel Receptionist, a Spanish gentleman (complete with large black moustache), a policeman and, most importantly, the key role of Mr Visconti, his Aunt's real love.    Michael showed his accents and versatility to great effect, particularly as Mr Visconti a war criminal who has fled to South America.

Harry Sadler played a taxi driver, Sergeant Sparrow, Wolf and Colonel Hakim and did them full justice.

Mirabella Sarnyai played a Girl in Jodhpurs, Tooley, Italian Girl and Yolanda.    She coped well with the variety of accents required.    She has the priceless advantage of youth and good looks and did rather well, though a little more volume would have been welcome.   

Karen Budd was yet another versatile actress, playing Miss Keene, Hatty, Frau General Schmidt and Miss Paterson, showing her talents to the full.

Jason Lambert played the American O'Toole with great charisma and an authentic accent.   I much enjoyed his portrayal of this shady character.

Back projection by the director was well used to illustrate locations. There were too many to list them all  but the idea was effective and fully sufficed for the various  travels.

It is to the director's credit that the formula of a bare minimum of set worked as he envisaged.   Really, it was the only sensible choice given the bewildering range and breadth of scenes in this play.   All the actors played their roles with various degrees of aplomb and can be satisfied that they all added to the enjoyment of this riveting play.

Wardrobe under the care of Nan Sadler was realistic and well fitted.

It must be said that Cobham Players are a well organised, multi-talented drama company and this highly enjoyable evening was well up to their expected usual high standard.

Finally, it was pleasing to see NODA and its aims given  prominent display in the well designed programme.