18 July 2022
Brandon Thomas’s obituary notice in The Times quoted him as saying “I hoped to go down to fame as a great actor. If I go at all it will be as the author of ‘Charley’s Aunt’.” Prescient words; the actor never made it big on the stage, but well over 100 years since his death his play lives on!
First performed in 1892, the story tells of how two Oxford undergraduates, Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham, persuade their friend, Lord Fancourt Babberley, to impersonate the latter’s aunt, Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, in order to gain the affections of two young ladies. The plot is full of mistaken identities, ludicrous coincidences and plenty of running in and out of numerous doors – a farce in the greatest sense. As theatrical genres go, farce is well known for being one of the toughest to bring off, requiring great comic skill, timing and actors playing their roles to the hilt.
The success of Jonathan Ray’s production is that it combines all the above, offering audiences a chance to sit back, relax and wallow in an evening of preposterous comedy against the backdrop of Andrew Beckett’s delightful set. Elements of pantomime abound in this play (such the asides to the audience) and the director plays on this, not least by emphasising the delivery of lines directly out front
As the two lovestruck students, Jake Seabrooke uses his height to huge comic effect and Harry Clarke can offer the ‘lost boy look’ quite brilliantly; they work extremely well together. Daft as brushes both of them! Dominic McChesney provides Brassett – Jack’s ‘manservant’ – with a wonderfully knowing quality – he has seen all the antics of students before, or has he? As Jack and Charley’s love interest, Kitty and Amy, Emily Louise Connor and Katherine Dodds, offer great comic timing in characters who are rather smarter than their male counterparts. Will Forester is splendidly gung-ho as Jack’s father, Sir Francis Chesney – the two actors are remarkably convincing as father and son. Lord Fancourt is a role requiring physical as well as comedic skills and Brandon Eady delivers in spades; a performance of great maturity belying the youth of the actor – look out for him in the future! James Pellow excels as Stephen Spettigue who falls for the fake Donna Lucia; channelling the vocals of Kenneth Williams, this is a brilliant comic performance – he brings the house down with one sound. Fabulous. As the real Donna Lucia, Daniele Coombe throws everything she has at the role and, once again, proves what a masterful comedy actor she is; her delivery of “Charley’s Aunt from Brazil. Where the nuts come from.” is theatrical gold dust. Liv Koplick is completely delightful as Fancourt’s love interest Ela Delahay, making the most of the smallest role.
The play itself is quite wordy and there are times when the pace begins to drag; there is no doubt this will improve markedly as the production matures, but I wondered whether some judicious cuts should have been implemented to keep the tempo up.
Jonathan Ray is rather better known as an actor, and one with natural skill in physical comedy which he uses to direct his cast to hugely good effect. ‘Charley’s Aunt’ may be regarded as a charming, old fashioned piece of theatre, but it is a masterly piece of writing, constructed with great skill and here the director and a first-rate cast memorably bring it to life.
We all need plenty of laughs right now and ‘CHARLEY’S AUNT’ is the perfect tonic: it runs until 23 July and tickets are available on www.manorpavilion.com and 01395 514413
The Summer Play Festival continues with an adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘EMMA’ which is playing from 25-29 July.
CAST & CREATIVES
CHARLEY WYKEHAM – HARRY CLARKE
JACK CHESNEY – JAKE SEABROOKE
BRASSETT – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
KITTY VERDUN – EMILY LOUISE CONNOR
AMY SPETTIGUE – KATHERINE DODDS
STEPHEN SPETTIGUE – JAMES PELLOW
SIR FRANCIS CHESNEY – WILL FORESTER
DONNA LUCIA D’ALVADOREZ – DANIELE COOMBE
ELA DELAHAY – LIV KOPLICK
WRITER – BRANDON THOMAS
DIRECTOR – JONATHAN RAY
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS