Review Round-up: Charley at the Chocolate FactoryDate: 2 October 2012
Ian Talbot's revival of classic farce Charley's Aunt, starring Jane Asher and Mathew Horne, among others, opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory last night (1 October 2012).
…Horne’s appearance as Lord Fancourt Babberly, before he throws on the dress and antimacassar of the faux aunt, is startling…The hyper-realistic set, designed by Paul Farnsworth complete with twisting spires, grand arches, old boys photos and a cabinet filled with champagne…Once fully frocked, Horne’s gurning turns to feverish anxiousness at being found out. He has some wonderful slapstick moments…The contrast between Jane Asher’s poised and charming aunt and Horne’s gregarious, flustered ersatz version is a genius bit of casting. Where he flaps towards the audience, her serene confidence draws the eye. In one lovely moment the pair walk side-by-side, with the fake aunt trying to imitate the genuine article, as they turn their backs to the crowd, kicking out their skirts, it’s Asher who holds our gaze.
…The tiny Menier gleefully embraces this fin-de-siècle grandeur, as Dominic Tighe’s Jack and his dim pal Charley (Benjamin Askew) weave a disastrous web…Ian Talbot’s cast balance absurdity and real charm…It hinges on a lovely central performance by Mathew Horne…Horne’s strength lies in looking unglamorous, panicky, briefly overconfident and then genuinely, touchingly appalled at the complications. Physically he is brilliant…The greedy choleric Spettigue is Norman Pace (an unforgettable love-dance) and the real aunt is, of course, Jane Asher in a purple cloud of velvet elegance and matriarchal power…So the play emerges as a reburnished delight…So how enchanting to reflect that the same comic toffery amused the Victorians, and made this a runaway hit. Mr and Mrs Pooter thought young toffs as funny as we do; yet kindly rejoiced when their romances came good.
…Many of the laughs are thanks to Mathew Horne’s full-throttle performance as the panicky Fancourt…Around him there’s bright work, especially from Dominic Tighe as Jack, while enjoyable support comes from Steven Pacey and Jane Asher, whose amorous entanglement is a grown-up version of the younger characters’ fragile intrigue. Ian Talbot’s production is orthodox, yet none the worse for being so. Paul Farnsworth’s design is certainly the most lavish I have seen at this Southwark venue. It looks very much as if it has been created with a West End transfer in mind. The decision to have two intervals makes this a longer evening than is strictly necessary, and the writing can feel heavy-handed. But although daft beyond belief, Charley’s Aunt is indestructibly funny.
…Director Ian Talbot cleverly sets its comic cogs in motion, throws some expert actors at it, and lets it run effortlessly, without either fuss or fury. There’s no attempt to impose a concept - instead, he mines it for rigorous comic detail, epitomised by sleekly elegant sets by Paul Farnsworth…Mathew Horne…his performance is a comic tour de farce. But though Horne’s role may be centre of the action - and has to fight off the romantic attentions of Steven Pacey’s wonderfully crisp and practical Sir Francis Chesney and Norman Pace’s Stephen Spettigue - it’s no one-man production, but a magnificently marshalled ensemble show with not a weak link in it. Jane Asher’s arrival as the real aunt, gliding around with a hilarious complicity in the deception, sets the seal on an evening of all-round comic delight.