Venue: Oldham Coliseum
Date Reviewed: 11th October, 2008
The Oldham Coliseum have once again proved that they are one of the most reliable producing theatres in the region with this solid and humorous production of Graham Greene’s rip-roaring novel Travels with my Aunt.
The story concerns retired bank manager Henry Pulling who meets his eccentric Aunt Augusta for the first time in fifty years at his mother’s funeral. Before long his world is turned upside down by the discovery that his mother was, in fact, not his mother at all which triggers the alluring bond he develops with his Aunt.
As the story unfolds Henry joins Augusta on her travels through France, Turkey, Argentina and finally Paraguay where, having been sucked deeper and deeper into her bizarre and romantic lifestyle, he decides to give up his humdrum life and marry a girl significantly younger than himself.
In Giles Havergal’s adaptation only four men are required to perform the whole play each taking on a multitude of different characters but all, rather unusually, sharing the lead role of Henry.
The excellent cast in this production achieve enormous success in their various guises. Kieran Buckeridge is brilliant as Aunt Augusta flouncing around the stage with a suave confidence and sophistication but with just the right amount of insecurity. Chris Hannon also scores highly with his characterisation of Augusta’s African lover/manservant Wordsworth and then her Italian lover Visconti.
In act 1 Robin Simpson gets many laughs as American hippie Tooley who befriends the travelling pair and pours out her soul to a slightly awkward Henry. He then, in act 2, plays Tooley’s father, as the story moves towards its conclusion. Completing the quartet of actors is Tony Jayawardena who also makes a fine impression in a variety of roles.
Whilst all four actors work superbly as an ensemble, director Joyce Branagh ensures the performance zips along at a speedy pace making excellent use of the small performance space dominated by Sophie Kahn’s highly effective set. A black and white backdrop with doors, windows and all sorts of clever tricks is used to fantastic effect and the sheer volume of uses found for a set of white suitcases is a joy to behold.
If the play does feel a little saggy at times it’s most certainly not the fault of the physical production but Havergal’s writing which renders the play slightly laboured and long winded.
All in all though, this is a hugely enjoyable evening out and those lucky enough to see it during this short two week run are in for quite a treat.