BRANDON Thomas’s comedy Charley’s Aunt opened in 1892, just three years before Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Both have redoubtable aunts. Both have central characters in love.
And both have continued to be popular with audiences and performers ever since.
Salisbury’s Studio Theatre company has chosen Thomas’s play to open its autumn season, directed by Ros Liddington and on stage at the refurbished Ashley Road HQ until 6th October. The company has had to accommodate the building works during the rehearsal period, and that must have been distracting at the least. The director also decided to advance the setting to 1929, the period between the wars, slightly changing the stilted original dialogue to the new slang of the Roaring 20s.
Her company includes Studio stalwarts and debutantes, unfolding the story of two idle young undergraduates who have left it until the very last moment to declare their love for two young ladies.
Back briefly to the 1890s, when these two could not POSSIBLY visit Jack Chesney’s rooms without a chaperone. But by good chance, chum Charley’s aunt is due for lunch too. But when the old bat from Brazil doesn’t show, it’s time for well connected Sir Fancourt Babberley, already enamoured of amateur theatricals, to take over the role of the previously unknown South American aunt.
The girls, Kitty and Amy, immediately fall for the charms of the eccentric old lady. Then Jack’s widowed father and heiress Kitty’s guardian see their own chances of twilight rapture in the arms of the (very wealthy) Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez.
The fun is fast moving and hilarious, and only gets more so when the REAL Donna Lucia arrives, with another heiress in tow … and she’s the beloved of Fanny Babberly.
Barry Matthews-Keel’s clever screens bring undergraduate chambers, college garden and Spettigue’s mansion to life. There are some fine performances, notably from Fraser Adams as Jack, Emma Way as Donna Lucia, Brian Waddington as the infatuated Spettigue, Fabia Alexander as the charming Kitty and, in the title role, Kris Hamilton, relishing every moment of personating auntie.
There are a few problems, like serving chunky sandwiches on napkins for “luncheon” and some very peculiar pronunciations. But by the time you read this most of the glitches will be ironed out, creating another memorable Studio Theatre show, and one which is clearly delighting the almost sold out audiences.