Iain Mitchell, Jonathan Hyde & David Bamber in Travels with my Aunt (photo: Catherine Ashmore)
The Menier Chocolate Factory has a thing about aunts of late. Following on the heels of last year's revival of Brandon Thomas' farce Charley's Aunt, this Graham Greene adaptation by Giles Havegal is a more contemporary but no less anachronistic fable.
The plot - which I hesitate to précis considering the number of twists, turns and location changes - centres on the adventures of dour retired bank manager Henry Pulling and his eccentric Aunt Augusta, with whom he is reunited (for the first time since his baptism) at his mother's funeral.
Augusta has a penchant for exotic locations and a mysterious Italian named Mr Visconti. She also holds a dark secret pertaining to the true identity of Henry's mother. I won't spoil the 'big reveal' for those unfamiliar with the story, but suffice to say it hardly comes as a big surprise.
Christopher Luscombe's production is crisply staged on Colin Falconer's sparsely furnished set, which retains the air of a station platform. The whirlwind of cities - Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Asunción, to name but a few - are highlighted on a departures board (a valuable aide memoire) and changes in character are often comical in their swiftness.
The four-strong cast rotate as Henry, though Jonathan Hyde and David Bamber do the lion's share. But the show-stealer, predictably, is Hyde's turn as Augusta - an interpretation that brings him dangerously close to Dame Edna territory at times, but one which ensures she acts as a formidable spine in an often befuddling narrative. Hand haughtily clamped to his neck, Hyde delivers Augusta's waspish put-downs and wry observations with aplomb.
Iain Mitchell and Gregory Gudgeon meanwhile take on a huge range of supporting characters - from Augusta's Sierra Leonean valet/lover Wordsworth to an array of gangsters, goons and girls - with the childish abandon of two uncles playing charades at Christmas.
But, jolly as it all is, there's something surprisingly disengaging about the production as a whole, especially in the latter half when the bombardment of plot twists becomes enough to induce shell-shock. And that's not to mention my nagging doubts about the tastefulness of the distinctly colonial characterisations.
Although Travels With My Aunt will doubtless be of interest to 'Greeneland' connoisseurs and fans of a quainter brand of humour, those who like their theatre with a bit of edge would be wise to look elsewhere.