Charley’s Aunt tells the story of Jack Chesney (Dominic Tighe) and Charley Wykeham (Benjamin Askew), two Oxford graduates who are madly in love with Kitty Verdun (Leah Whittaker) and Amy Spettigue (Ellie Beaven). Their wicked uncle and guardian Stephen Spettigue (Norman Pace) are planning to take them away to dreary old Scotland and Charley gets word that his aunt, the millionaire widow Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez (Jane Asher) is coming for a surprise visit, so the boys use this a chance to invite their sweethearts for lunch and prepare to declare their love. Charley’s Aunt is newly widowed and rich, so the boys try and set up their friends with her. They turn to their friend Lord Fancourt Babberley aka Babbs (Mathew Horne) to try and woo her, but he has a meeting to audition for a show. Charley then receives a letter stating that his aunt isn’t coming, and the girls have already arrived to get her approval (she is to be their chaperone) and with Babbs preparing for his role as a female, he is unwillingly forced to stand in as Charley’s Aunt.
The show is fast-paced: wonderfully posh humour filled with acting from well known comedy talent. It might not grab you straight away but you’ll be hooked by the end. There is something very Carry On-esque about the whole play, the camp humour, the quick comedic timing – you can’t help but laugh along. The story itself seems to be a bit all over the place and very hard to keep up with who’s supposed to be together or not, but any reservations here are down to personal taste rather than the production of the show itself.
Of course your attention immediately falls on Mathew Horne, who steals the show as the bumbling and loving idiot Babbs. Horne’s version of Babbs has a very Lee Evans/ Norman Wisdom feel to it and that moment when he steps out in his drag you know you’re going to be taken on a beautifully comedic ride. It is amazing how quickly he goes from bumbling to absolutely love struck.
The casting was perfect. The main four young characters were thoroughly believable and the additions of Charles Kay playing the lovable servant Brassett, Norman Pace as the villain of the piece Stephen Spettigue, and Steven Pacey playing Jack’s father Francis, give the show its finishing touches. My favourites were Jane Asher, playing the wonderfully regal Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez and Charlie Clemmow playing Ela, they were so effortlessly perfect and Clemmow’s Ela was so wonderfully bright eyed and smiley it put a smile on my face every time she was on the stage.
We have to commend Paul Farnsworth for his wonderful design in the show. The open plan set helped give us the extra sense of wealth and stability and adds wonderful irony when you start to realise that hardly anyone in this show has the money to afford their lifestyle. The only problem is with the big sets, there is more time needed to change the sets so there are two intervals which does make the show lose its pacing just slightly. However within a few minutes it picks up and you’re laughing your head off again.
Charley’s Aunt is a wonderful comedic treat.
Charley’s Aunt will be playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 10th November. For more information and tickets, see the Menier Chocolate Factory website.