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A CurtainUp London Review
Travels With My Aunt
" After meeting his eccentric aunt at his mother's funeral, prematurely retired bank manager Henry returns to her London residence before setting off on a worldwide journey which includes Paris, Rome, Belgrade, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Paraguay. Jonathan Hyde in a tremulous “female” voice initially takes up the part of the 86 year old Aunt Augusta with David Bamber as Henry and Iain Mitchell as Wordsworth, Augusta's butler and bed warmer from Sierra Leone via the Tooting Granada cinema. In a clever piece of direction, Henry is carrying a brown paper wrapped casket of his mother's ashes and the exchange of this parcel tells us who is playing Henry at any one point in time until we have time to adjust to these multiplayed roles.
There is lots to laugh at. The aunt is outrageous and unconventional as she sets off on the Orient Express in search of past lovers, Abdul from Istanbul and the disreputable Italian swindler, Mr Visconti (a Godfather type accent and a large cigar) and is pursued by the ever loyal Wordsworth who is as dedicated to Aunt Augusta as she is to sexual excitement and Foreign travel. On the train in pursuit of Aunt Augusta, Henry, drawn into Aunt Augusta's world, will meet the American hippie girl, Tooley, who simpers and lisps in an American accent (the magnificent Bamber).
As with an all male cast dressed almost identically, dark suit for London, cream linen suit and red knitted waistcoat for the tropics, we are denied Aunt Augusta's lovely costumes. However the designer has created a set with a station destination lit up signboard, racks of old leather suitcases in a lost property area and an old fashioned waiting room.
I had forgotten how delightfully wide the Menier playing area is. When the smoke can is carried over the stage, the set fills with the steam of a 1950s railway station and music and of course the station signage lets us know which part of the world we are in.
The highlight for me was the tango in Paraguay, Aunt Augusta dancing with the chief of police with wild abandon (Jonathan Hyde and Gregory Gudgeon). Aunt Augusta decries the treatment in South America of Mr Visconti comparing it to the hospitality afforded Josef Mengele saying, “Mr Visconti was very kind to Jews”. Directed by Christopher Luscombe, Travels With My Aunt's stay at the Menier is frivolous and fun.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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