Travels With My Aunt
Citizens Theatre Glasgow
3rd-20th May 2017
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Henry Pulling, 55, a retired bank manager and confirmed bachelor, has been living a sheltered life in the leafy suburb of Southwood tending to his beloved dahlias. At his mother’s funeral he meets his formidable 76 year old Aunt Augusta for the first time in 50 years; his life will never be the same again as she coerces him into travelling with her to Brighton, Paris, Istanbul, Boulogne and, finally, Paraguay. In the course of their journeys he discovers that his aunt has lead a racy and dissolute life of petty crime and prostitution and has had several lovers over the years, the chief among these being the shady Mr Visconti. Over the course of the play Henry is increasingly drawn in to Aunt Augusta’s lifestyle and eventually becomes as immersed in the shady side as his aunt.
This play is an adaptation by Giles Havergal of Graham Greene’s 1969 novel Travels With My Aunt and although regarded as a comic novel there are some darker undercurrents at play as the story unfolds. The adaptation sticks pretty closely to the original story and, indeed, much of the dialogue is pretty much verbatim from the novel. Havergal’s device is to use only four (male) actors for all the 20 or so characters in the play and director Phillip Breen has made a good job of pitching the performance in such a way that serves the story well while avoiding any possible confusion as the actors rotate through their multiple parts. The stage set is very simple and stark and uses projected place names on the rear wall to keep you up with the locale of the action. Actor 4, Ewan Somers, is used almost as a mime-come stage-manager and has a hilarious turn as a German General’s Irish Wolfhound that comes to a very sticky end. Ian Redford is particularly effective as Henry/Augusta with Tony Cownie and Joshua Richards dealing with a multitude of different characters. A nice touch is the change from dark old-school city gent suits in the first part to tropical white suits in the second and the subtle lighting gave a real feeling of the Paraguayan heat.
By no stretch of the imagination can either the novel or the play be categorised as laugh-out-loud funny although there are many moments which raise a smile and there is the occasional moment of real laughter. Some of Greene’s attitudes to race are very much of their time and would not be recognised now, although this play manages to curb the worst excesses. At nearly two hours in total the audience was kept unflaggingly entertained throughout and accompanying Henry’s journey to a possible idyllic life in Paraguay is well worth seeing.
Reviewer: David Ivens