DramaReviewSouth Coast

Travels With My Aunt – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Graham Greene adapted by Giles Havergal
Director: Amanda Knott
Reviewer: Bill Avenell

Giles Havergal’s stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s amusing book is undoubtedly clever. Four actors, play a variation of characters at different times regardless of sex, with only the help of the odd hat or pair of glasses to distinguish between them, and create a world from London to Istanbul and on to Buenos Aires in one setting of the Club bar.

And this production by Matthew Parish for Creative Cow Theatre Company starts well enough. Amanda Knott’s direction sets them off with perfect timing as they synchronise their hat wearing and beer swilling and all is set fair. But the problem with it is that, since none of Greene’s characters are particularly likeable or well developed in the book and, while his writing has an acerbic wit about it, there aren’t many ‘funny lines’ for the players to latch on to, the main interest of the play becomes the way it is presented. Once this happens then it is on the slippery slope to boredom and even irritation.

The cast all try hard, perhaps too hard at times. If there is not much substance to the dialogue then they are inevitably thrown back on their delivery and in this case, there is a very fine dividing line between credibility and panto. Richard Earl and Jack Hulland fall into the panto trap too often; over-screeching Aunt Augusta, over-evilling Mr Visconti, over-sinistering O’Toole. Katherine Senior as the only girl has the advantage of being slightly different and gives a lovely, if very brief, portrayal of the adolescent teenager Yolanda while David Partridge, helped no doubt by being given the opportunity to play Wordsworth (Aunt Augusta’s African toy-boy) just the right side of politically correct, is the strongest of the four.

And once the actors are struggling then there is a tendency for the audience to look more critically at the discrepancies between them and at their surroundings. The perfect synchronisation, so well demonstrated in the opening scene, becomes a little more obvious for its imperfections as the play progresses. The use of this particular format in which diction and timing are so vital as the characters are passed from one actor to another means that the few slips take on greater significance. Whenever the lighting is a bit too dark or the soundtrack a bit too much of a mish-mash, it becomes too noticeable. In the end, the success of the production is reliant on the one clever idea of its presentation.

The audience at Guildford give it a reasonable send-off but there isn’t much of a buzz in the air in the foyer afterwards. It is all just a bit boring.

Runs until 23 April 2016 | Image: Contributed


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