Graham Greene's bizarrely entertaining comic novel was published in 1969, adapted for the stage by Giles Havergal and first produced in Glasgow in 1989 and later transferred to the West End where it won the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment in 1993. Now in 2002 Nottingham Playhouse associate director Richard Baron revives his own recent production for a fresh national tour.
A well-known and established cast - comprising Gary Wilmot, Jeffrey Holland, Clive Francis and Andrew Greenough - take to the stage in pinstripes and bowler hats to play over 20 characters. These include protagonist Henry Pulling, his eccentric Aunt Augusta, and a menagerie of extras ranging from secret agents and art smugglers to a dope-smoking young American girl and a feisty Irish wolfhound, each portrayed with easily distinguishable characteristics.
Set in the "swinging '60s" and spanning three continents, the story centres on Henry, a straight-laced bank manager, recently retired and looking forward to tending his dahlias. It's at his mother's funeral that Henry meets his eccentric aunt, who decides his life needs a little spice and whisks him off to the likes of Paris, Istanbul and South America, introducing him to a host of shady characters along the way.
The four actors share almost all the parts, even Henry himself, passing him back and forth, sometimes mid-line, almost like a baton in a relay. Thankfully, these moves are seamless and well executed, if occasionally confusing.
Ken Harrison's minimal set makes maximum use of a few everyday items, mostly chairs, umbrellas and hats, while the ingenious character changes and multi uses of the props keep the performers' energy - and audience's interest - levels high.
But for all the zip, polish and professionalism of Baron's production, Greene's tale simply hasn't dated well. The female characters are particularly stereotypical, the humour old-fashioned and the story, well, dull. If you love Graham Greene and/or the book of Travels with My Aunt, then a treat is in store. If not, you could be bored.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at Nottingham Playhouse)