Thursday 27th April to Saturday 29th April and Tuesday 2nd May to Saturday 6th May 2000
Directed by Mark Wakeman
This classic evergreen farce is set in Oxford during the 1890s. The imminent visit of Charles Wykeham's aunt from Brazil, Donna Lucia, provides an excuse for Charles and Jack to invite their young ladies to meet her. When a telegram arrives postponing Donna Lucia's visit, they persuade their amiable friend Babbs to impersonate the aunt - and the fun really begins!
Brandon Thomas's most famous play, 'Charley's Aunt' premiered at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds in 1892. Thomas himself played Sir Francis Chesney. The play then opened in London at the Royalty Theatre on 21 December 1892 and quickly transferred to the larger Globe Theatre on 30 January 1893 to complete its record-breaking run (at the time) of 1466 performances. It also had a major success on Broadway where it ran for four years, and had wide international success, with productions in many countries and languages. Since that time, it has been produced somewhere in London almost continually.
Charley Wykeham and Jack Chesney, undergraduates at Oxford University, need a chaperone so they can entertain Amy Spettigue and Kitty Verdun, the niece and ward of Stephen Spettigue, an Oxford solicitor. When Charley receives word from his guardian that his aunt, Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez, a rich widow from Brazil ("where the nuts come from") whom he has never met, is coming to visit him, they invite Amy and Kitty to lunch to meet her. But when the aunt's visit is delayed they persuade their friend Lord Fancourt Babberley to impersonate her.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Colonel Sir Francis Chesney||Alan Welton|
|Stephen Spettigue||David Hill|
|Jack Chesney||Nathan Chapman|
|Charles Wykeham||Paul Davies|
|Lord Fancourt Babberley (Babbs)||Mark Wakeman|
|Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez||Debbie Money|
|Kitty Verdun||Julia Jeram|
|Amy Spettigue||April Robertson|
|Ela Delahay||Zoë Corrigan|
|Assistant Director and Producer||Robin Hall|
|Stage Manager||Nigel Powis|
|Set Artwork||Margaret Vehay|
|Set Design||David Penrose |
|Set Construction||Chris Ryan|
|Lighting Design||Chris Ryan|
It is strange the quirks of life that stalk us at every turn. Last year I revealed that I had first discovered 'The Importance of Being Earnest' after being offered the part of Lady Bracknell in a production, which, in the end, did not go on. Fate must have decided it wanted to see me have one more chance to don a frock.
As I have stated in previous programmes, I have no great knowledge of theatre upon which to draw my choice of plays and so a friend recommended this play to me. He had seen a production of this years ago, and was eager to see what we would make of it. After getting hold of a copy of the script, I was intrigued myself. However, having just directed the Bench's production of 'Earnest' I was reluctant to re-enter the world of Victorian comedy. Therefore I put forward both this and another famous comedy 'Arsenic and Old Lace'. The Bench, however, in its infinite wisdom decided they wanted to do this play first so 'Arsenic' will have to wait.
It was also unintentional (although no one will believe this) that this would be my first production as Director and an actor but the honest truth was that circumstances forced my hand in donning the frock. However, taking on the role of actor/director was my next obvious step, I was just a little nervous at taking on such a vital part in the production. It all seemed, however, to go very well; you the audience will be the ultimate judge so we will just have to see.
Due to my lack of theatre knowledge, unlike other directors I can't tell you about the deep significance or social importance of the play. All I can tell you is that it is a classic farce featuring all the famous elements (mistaken identity, crossed wires, misunderstanding and fast paced action) and the cast I have assembled performs it very well.
Mark Wakeman, Director
Originally, I agreed to become involved in Charley's Aunt as producer, a role I felt would suit someone with no ambition to direct whatsoever. Having insisted that Mark would make a perfect Lord Babbs, I realised, rather late, the implications of casting him and have to admit to some serious qualms about trying to stand in as director while he was on stage.
Mark has taught me a great deal about how a play is turned into a production, and had enough faith in me to share his play. I am also indebted to the cast, who have been very patient and haven't once complained about being guinea pigs (well, not in front of me anyway). I was very lucky to be working with such forgiving, talented and enthusiastic people.
Robin Hall, Assistant Director
In this Bench Theatre production, Brandon Thomas's Victorian farce is practically a one-man show, often an entertaining one. But at its best it should be an ensemble piece not just a showcase for the actor playing Lord Fancourt Babberley. He is persuaded to impersonate an aunt from Brazil so that the other two young ladies at Oxford can entertain their ladies.
Even when simply playing Babberley, Mark Wakeman captures the style and voice of a young toff with a precision neither Nathan Chapman nor Paul Davies as his friend can match. Only he can sound as to the manner born as he exclaims "By George!" Then when playing Babberley playing Charley's aunt, Wakeman achieves a heady mix of arch masculinity and fluttering femininity, calculating intent and throwaway casualness. He even invests the line "Brazil, where the nuts come from" with a sly menace.
Alan Welton and David Hill are effective enough as the two men duped into declaring their love for the 'aunt' - one suave, the other blustering. But suavity is what the other younger actors lack. It is needed to sharpen the recurring sense of calamity. They also lack an understanding of the way people speak sentences they don't finish. The cut-off should not be signalled. The dash at the end of the printed line should be unheard. It is one of the most obvious giveaways in amateur acting, and better would be expected of the Bench.
Wakeman is the director and with assistant Robin Hall he also needs to inject more pace at times. Ambitious set designs by David Penrose and Chris Ryan are well executed. Until May 6.
The News, 28th April 2000