Travels with My Aunt
Graham Greene, adapted by Giles Havergal
Menier Chocolate Factory
From 02 May 2013 to 29 June 2013
Review by Philip Fisher
Henry Pulling, the nonentity at the centre of Graham Greene's picaresque novel, gets an unusual treatment in this stage adaptation.
He is played by three separate actors, often sounding rather like a Greek chorus as they complete each other's lines.
Each also switches into and out of other parts as the story develops. Jonathan Hyde takes pride of place as the ubiquitous, eponymous Aunt Augusta, perhaps deliberately taking off Maggie Smith who played the role over 40 years ago on the silver screen, with just a dash of Edith Evans thrown in for luck. She is the antithesis of her nephew, a typical, timid Greene Englishman.
Where Henry is a dull, recently-retired bank manager whose idea of excitement is to see a dahlia coming into bud, Auntie has lived a wildly exciting life and continues to globe-trot and carouse, five years beyond her allotted three score years and ten.
She does so in the company of an eccentric assortment of unusual men. Iain Mitchell is most amusing as Wordsworth, a man from Sierra Leone who is absolutely besotted with the old dear and will do anything for her.
David Bamber's main subsidiary role is as a barely-disguised CIA agent (not to mention his hippyish daughter).
The presence of the spy is another indicator that we are in Greeneland. He is on the trail of Nazis and treasures but the biggest surprise lies much closer to home, though in fact it is so well telegraphed that those concentrating will pick it with three-quarters of the two hours still remaining.
This version was originally written by Giles Havergal almost a quarter of a century ago and is embellished by director Christopher Luscombe with occasional witty visual gags, most perpetrated by the fourth actor, Gregory Gudgeon, who at times must feel as if he is being used as a human prop.
Travels with My Aunt is a gently amusing tale that lacks a degree of stage impact when it is presented by a quartet of men, sharing parts but dressed almost identically. While this is appropriate in that three play the same character, it is often less so when they take on their wildly-variegated supporting roles.
In summary, this production and adaptation give the impression of a long monologue divided somewhat randomly into three parts and expertly delivered by a well-drilled cast, who get everything that they can from the script.