Travels with my Aunt

Graham Greene, adapted by Giles Havergal
Creative Cow
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Henry Pulling - Travels with my Aunt

Greene’s novel, the only one he wrote "just for the fun of it", is produced here almost as a test for ingenuity and the versatility of the performers.

Four actors play over twenty parts between them, switching from one to another with a speed and dexterity that challenges the audience to keep up, and some really amusing moments occur when, from time to time, they are all ‘Henry’ at the same time and move in unison.

The Henry in question is a recently retired bank manager living alone. There was almost a love in his life, he almost proposed, but the moment passed and he is now resigned to a life of reasonably contented solitude nurturing his precious dahlias, with even attending his mother’s funeral being an exciting event.

Little did he know that meeting his seventy-five-year-old Aunt Augusta there would lead him on a journey from boringly safe suburbia to the excitement and dangers of Istanbul and beyond, even as far as Paraguay. He thought she had intended a short trip to the seaside.

The first journey for Henry and his aunt is to her flat above the Crown and Anchor. Henry discovers on the way some astonishing facts about his family, although nothing prepares him for the door being opened by a very big, very black man from Sierra Leone known as Wordsworth who is his aunt’s butler, housekeeper, cleaner—or lover? Just a little sample of the complexities to come and followed by a police raid on his own abode very shortly afterwards.

It is the well-stocked bar of the Crown and Anchor which provides the setting, unchanging throughout yet becoming the various hotels on the journey as well as the Orient Express, a ship, a train, or a urinal. The actors are dressed alike in plain dark suits, creating their changes of character with little more than a hat—with or without plaits.

Every one of the four actors plays both Henry and Aunt Augusta as well as numerous other characters. Just to keep us focused, the one holding the pink spectacles is always Aunt Augusta, although it is all really quite obvious by the stance, mannerisms and tone of voice and quite fascinating to see the different interpretations from each performer.

David Partridge seems the most convincing Aunt Augusta and exceptional as Wordsworth, although that accent is a little difficult to sustain, especially when interspersed with Tooley, a young, pot-smoking girl hippy.

There are few concessions to gender with Richard Earl playing at least three female characters, but funniest as the palm reader with an inexhaustible flood of incomprehensible Spanish and Jack Holland is a very believably eccentric CIA man O’Toole with an unexplained black eye patch. Katherine Senior, a founding member of Creative Cow, has seven characters, all except Henry being female, funniest I thought as Hatty the tea cup reading fortune teller.

It’s all very lighthearted and yet… there are questions here of morality, loyalty, love. Make what you will of it all, but you can’t deny it’s very entertaining.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor