My Sainted Aunt is billed as a "sexy" new comedy based in the rarified world of Swiss banking - although there's more than a passing resemblance to Graham Greene's jaunt Travels with my Aunt. In this case, it must be said that sexiness and banking don't seem to go hand in hand, but, as author Philip Sagar is a career banker, he's either writing from experience, or has been indulging in some wishful thinking while filling in the ledgers.
The action is billed as taking place now: but the whole evening reeks of Greene's 1960s - from Simon Scullion's retro set to Andrew Whelan's cheesy lounge music; from the bank where no computer seems to be used to a world where the gymslip is the acme of sexual daring. It's hard to imagine that anyone who has ever used the Internet would be shocked by any of Sagar's sexual revelations.
There are some decent one-liners though - at least until the play completely runs out of steam towards the end. The last five minutes or so are shockingly bad, as implausibility is heaped on improbability, ignoring one of the golden rules of farce - that there is some sort of internal logic behind all the action. Was this bit written during the 'any other business' footnotes at a particularly boring board meeting?
Some compensation is found in a bravura performance by John Griffiths, a late stand-in (so late, that his name isn't in the programme) for Graham Seed. Despite having to read much of his part, Griffiths captured the middle-age malaise of the banker Prendergast superbly.
I wish the same could be said for Shirley Ann Field's Maud. Sounding and behaving as if she were thoroughly bored, Field comes across more like a chief executive reading out the latest profit and loss sheet. Her sense of timing is particularly awry - it's as if she's in a desperate hurry to get away. Griffiths' gallant turn deserves better than this.
Indeed, Field aside, there are some whole-hearted performances from the rest of the cast, not least James Simmons' internal auditor. And Joe Harmston's energetic direction does keep the play chugging along, covering up the cracks in the plot.
There are lots of worst plays on in the West End, and there are very few plays in so charming a theatre as the New End. If the part of Maud could have been played by someone with a bit more sassiness, and Sagar could be persuaded to rewrite the ending, My Sainted Aunt could be a half decent evening.
- Maxwell Cooter