‘Charley’s Aunt’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 5, 2018

‘Charley’s Aunt’ is a funny farce that was written by Liverpool born actor, (Walter) Brandon Thomas, who died more than 100 years ago. Thomas was an all-round entertainer, playwright, and songwriter. Thomas’s local Hunt used to put on entertainment for its ‘Hunt Bespeak’ – their Awards Night – and so each year they sponsored a new play. One year they asked Thomas if he would write a light-hearted comedy, and ‘Charley’s Aunt’ was born. This idea later spawned the popular wartime cinema personality, ‘Old Mother Riley’.

This simple fun play for the locals, ‘Charley’s Aunt’, went on to break all major theatre records. Its initial London run included 1,466 performances at Bury St Edmunds and The Globe.

This Victorian and very English, 150-minute comedy classic is being presented by PAANDA, and can be seen at Prindiville Hall, University of Notre Dame, at 19 Mouat Street in Fremantle.

The curtain rises at 7.00 pm each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night until 10th November.

 

The scene: 1890s Victorian England

The sets were of a very high standard. Congratulations to Alannah Pennefather.

The first was Jack Chesney’s home. There were flats painted brown with white woodwork (décor painted by Antonio Coelho), a burgundy leather Chesterfield settee, a writing desk, a bookshelf and various comfortable chairs. An antique wine storage cabinet and the luckiest item in the room – a wastepaper basket. In one scene the audience audibly gasped as a crystal wine glass was accidently knocked off the desk, landing safely into the wastepaper basket full of screwed-up paper.

The second set was the grounds of St Olde’s College, a walled garden with trellises and an arched entrance. There was a white wrought iron table and set of chairs, a garden bench and a lawn.

The third set was the sitting-room of Stephen Spettigue’s home. Similar to the first interior but with different furniture and paintings on the wall. There was an upright piano and stool, a fireplace, a white lounger and another Chesterfield. A wonderful collection of props sourced by Jessica Dening and Jacob Whiteside.

The audience had to leave the auditorium whilst the sets were changed. One break was a tea break, the second simply to allow the team to carry out their work. The stage manager (Justine Ralph) and her team were very quick, and obviously well organised, but with several front of house staff standing around perhaps a few extra hands may helpful, and the intervals shorter.

The lighting was designed and subtly operated by Catherine Acres. There were a couple of scenes where the action moved from stage front, to stage rear, and with a 30% dim of the appropriate lamps the audience moved with the action.

The sound effects and music were smoothly operated by Thomas Desmond.

Thanks to Rachel Porter, for a well supervised and professional production.

 

     The poor housekeeper, Brassett (Harriet Lobegeiger), is struggling to retain her sanity as her employer Jack Chesney (Michael Allan) is very tense, desperate to become engaged. He is sitting at his desk composing a lover letter to Kitty Verdun (Annabelle Segler). He is permanently neurotic, whereas Kitty is strong and slightly manipulative. Jack is interrupted by Charley Wykeham (Edward Blake), an orphaned, old Etonian school friend who is looking for help in writing a similar letter to Amy Spettigue (Tessa Harris), his fawning girlfriend.

     Amy is the niece of the miserable and strict Mr Spettigue (Christopher Vogas), whilst Kitty is his ward. As the two young women are going north to Scotland next day, and will be away for many months, the two love-stricken men have only hours to get their partners’ guardian and father to let them become engaged. Obviously Spettigue will not leave the girls behind with these young men, who are in ‘heat’, without suitable supervision. However, Charley has an old and exceptionally wealthy aunt, Donna Lucia D’Álvadorez (Ana Ferreira Manhoso), that he has never seen, arriving from Brazil.

       Yet again, Jack has a visit from another undergraduate, the scrounging Lord Fancourt Babberly ‘Babbs’ (Matthew Jones), but Jack is also penniless, and hoping for a spot of cash from his father, a spritely, confident ex-Colonel, Sir Francis Chesney Bart (Giacomo Gropolli).

       They learn that Charley’s sassy aunt and her friend Ela (Ella Gorringe) have been delayed with her arrival. What should Jack and Charley do now?

 

For this production, director Troy Coelho has chosen a 100-years old, very British, comedy. Comedy is a genre that shows its age more than any other; yet with this top-rate cast and a huge amount of thought and work, he has brought us a completely fresh approach. The storyline is quite predictable but is great fun. The play retains an authentic Edwardian style but has a brilliant pace and a lively delivery. Accents can so often be a problem, but everyone had a natural ring to their inflections.

Most of the cast are Notre Dame students, who are studying other diverse topics, with their acting being a side-line.

The authentic costumes, thanks to Kirralee Coulter and her assistant, Abbey Morris, were superb; matching the wearer’s personality. The gowns were of complex design and beautifully tailored. The fine makeup and hair design were by Kirralee and her assistant Natasha Guest.

As Babbs, Matthew Jones must be the lost lovechild of Rik Mayall from the 70’s ‘TV series ‘The Young Ones’. What a terrific sense of humour and with a magnificent delivery. Along with Michael and Edward they all seemed to feed off each other, even having physical altercations that were perfectly choreographed. The cast were flawless.

A small observation, a ‘halfpenny’ was pronounced ‘hayp-knee’.

Another quality show by PAANDA.

Two and a half hours of pandemonium guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.