Charleys Aunt Sebastian Lanser, Laurie Todes, Tayla Sargent and Lee Speechly
Sebastian Lanser, Laurie Todes, Tayla Sargent and Lee Speechly

CHARLEY’S AUNT. Three-act period comedy by Brandon Thomas. Direction: Barbara Basel. Set: Alastair Duff. Costumes: Alastair Duff and Miranda Lewis. Presented by Muizenberg Dramatic Society (MADS). At The Masque Theatre until 12 June 2018.

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews

In Charley’s Aunt Jack (Lee Speechy) and Charley (Sebastian Lanser) have a dilemma. Both lads are in love – Jack with Kitty (Tayla Sargent) and Charley with her friend Amy (Laurie Todes). As both girls are shortly heading off to Scotland, there’s an urgency about proposing before they leave.  One difficulty is, to propose, they need the girls alone.

However, Edwardian etiquette demands a chaperone before the girls consider accepting an invitation to lunch in Jack’s Oxford rooms. While they desperately search for someone suitable, Charley (fortuitously) receives a telegram from Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez (Miranda Lewis). She’s a wealthy long-forgotten aunt from Brazil, and what’s more, she and her ward  Ela Delahay (Jess Pybus) are coming to lunch.

Charleys Aunt Jess Pybus, Gary Green and Miranda Lewis
Jess Pybus, Gary Green and Miranda Lewis

A delightful romp

The chaperone problem solved, Jack and Charley gleefully issue their invitations. The girls accept, and Jack orders his patient manservant Brassett (Thomas Bowman) to prepare for lunch for six. Then disaster. Donna Lucia messages she’s delayed.

Enter Lord Fancourt Babberley (Gary Green). Babbs, as he’s called, is 10 year undergraduate studying for a three-year degree. He had lots of money, but lost it in a card game to a dying man. Now he’s scrounging for Jack’s champagne to take to a drag party he’s off to. At the word “drag” some serious arm-twisting persuades Babbs to dress up and act as Charley’s Aunt… chaperone problem solved again.

And so playwright Brandon Thomas’s Charley’s Aunt unfolds. Perhaps outdated by modern courting standards, it’s still a delightful romp – not surprisingly running for an unprecedented 1 466 performances when first produced in 1893.

Experienced director Barbara Basel has a knack of catching period style, manners, and interaction. Without losing Thomas’s humour, judicious trimming shorted the script to a reasonable length. Funny scenes remained in place, and within limits Basel allowed her cast free interpretative rein. No one over, or under, acted. Even Speechly and Charley’s fussing and pacing over the business of proposing were humorous and in character of male behaviour at that time.

Sargent and Todes compliment to each other – Sargent, is more outgoing and confident than her shy, quieter friend.

Adding to the love game is the unexpected arrival of Jack’s dry humoured, military-esque, father Colonel Sir Francis Chesney (Alistair Duff) and Mr Stephen Spettigue (David Muller). Spettigue is a chauvinist guardian to Kitty and Uncle to Amy, and typically, is outraged they’re in Jack’s rooms without his knowledge. He demands they leave immediately (before they’ve been proposed to). What happens next is very funny. He spies Charley’s rouge cheeked elegant aunt, begowned in black velvet, ribbon bonnet and fluttering fan… and falls for her.

Charley's Aunt Lee Speechly, Gary Green and Sebastian Lanser
Lee Speechly, Gary Green and Sebastian Lanser

A truly splendid performance

While Green avoids him, Spettigue loses his blustering dignity galloping after Green determined to propose.

Green kept his Donna Lucia impersonation under control. As Kitty and Amy’s chaperone, Green makes the most of sitting close, touching and squeaking to them in an elderly voice. Then, perfectly timed to maximise laughs, he’d drop to his normal bass speaking asides to his audience. A truly splendid performance.

Inevitably the real gracious Donna Lucia arrives. But before she reveals herself, she and charming Pybus lead the group a merry dance.

Acted against an attractive set – unfortunately not matched by costumes, this Charley’s Aunt production is a real antidote to today’s dreary news.

What: Charley’s Aunt
Where: The Masque Theatre, Muizenberg, South Africa
When: Until 12 June 2018
Presented by: Muizenberg Dramatic Society (MADS)
The Masque Theatre: 021 788 1898
Book tickets: www.computicket.co.za
WS