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Charley's Aunt (Manchester)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Brandon Thomas' play Charley's Aunt may be nearly 120 years old, but it is as funny today as it was then. While definitely a piece of its era, the farcical physical and verbal humour simply does not date.

The plot is relatively simple – Charley and Jack invite Amy and Kitty, with whom they are enamoured, to lunch to meet Charley's wealthy widowed aunt, Dona Lucia. Charley has never met her himself. However at the last minute, she cancels, and in order to provide a chaperone for the two young ladies they enlist the assistance of their friend Lord Fancourt Babberly to impersonate her. Madness and mayhem ensue as 'Charley's Aunt' becomes the target of affection for both Jack's father and Amy's uncle; then the real Dona Lucia arrives, and the dynamics change again.

The Royal Exchange take this Victorian farce and move it forward into the Art Deco Edwardian period, but this in no way detracts from the story. The set by Johanna Bryant uses glamorous and sumptuous items to form the shape of the rooms or garden with evocative ease.

The entire cast are excellent. Jack Farthing (Jack) and Brodie Ross (Charley) are suitably upper class fools aided in their lives by Jack's butler Brassett, excellently played by Stephen Hudson. The two young ladies of their affections, Amy (Sarah Ovens) and Kitty (Annabel Scholey), are both suitably demure in manner and speech.

Meanwhile the two older men, Michael Elwyn as Jack's father Sir Francis and Malcom Rennie as Mr Spettigue, are both large in stature and stage presence. Briony McRoberts as the real Dona Lucia is a beautiful glamorous woman of more mature years and her ward Ela Dalahey (Elizabeth Crarer) is delightful as Babberley's love interest.

However the entire show is stolen by Oliver Gomm as Lord Fancourt Babberley. In a style reminiscent of a young Tim Brooke-Taylor, he creates not only the quite debonair male character but also a very over-the-top Dona Lucia with great skill. Gomm has excellent comic timing, which combined with his verbal prowess and sheer physical abilities (the leap into his dress while performing a forward roll as most memorable), make him a joy to watch.

Braham Murray's direction whilst retaining the heart of the play, allows the actors to do what they do best. His control of the commentary to the audience is beautifully played.

Overall this is a great evening's entertainment as Charley's Aunt is a Summer treat that really should not be missed.

- Helen Jones


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