Travels With My Aunt

This is a homecoming, of sorts; the revival of a play, first performed at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre back in 1989, which subsequently enjoyed successful productions in the West End and off-Broadway. Adapted from Graham Greene's 1969 novel by Giles Havergal (who, alongside Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald, ran the Citizens between 1969 and 2003), it’s a work which inspires real emotional involvement despite relying on what could be dismissed as a theatrical "gimmick".

Despite its post-Second World War setting, the ultimate success of this revival is showing the play’s continued relevance to today

Namely, the fact that all four of the cast play the central character Henry Pulling—frequently swapping mid-scene, while on several occasions doing so simultaneously. Despite this, and the speed at which it happens, there’s no confusion; each actor contributes some aspect to the otherwise bland figure of the 55-year-old bachelor, the retired (and retiring) bank manager whose only pleasure—at least until he's dragged into the bohemian maelstrom of Aunt Augusta and her adventures—was the cultivation of his dahlias. Only Ewan Somers, the youngest, draws the short straw in terms of having anything to say.

What continuity there is comes from the other roles the four actors play; “Actor 1” Ian Redford, for example, successfully embodies Henry’s Aunt Augusta with little more than a lightness of voice and a certain delicacy in posture. Joshua Richards (“Actor 3”) seems to specialise in the “foreigners”, which unfortunately includes the African-born Wordsworth, Aunt Augusta’s devoted valet (and lover) whose clear-cut morality stands as a real contrast to the minor war criminal, smugglers and CIA operative which Henry encounters in his travels—the racial stereotyping of the “noble savage”, admittedly, probably being Greene rather than Havergal’s fault.

The cast’s obvious versatility—Tony Cownie (“Actor 2”) successfully plays both a young American “gap year” student and her CIA-employed father, while Somers (“Actor 4”) at one point plays a randy Irish hound—supports a heightened theatricality reflected in Mark Bailey’s suitably indeterminate set, which is essentially a collection of necessary props rather than an attempt at defining a specific location. This works well with Tina Machugh’s lighting and Dylan Jones’ too-easily-underestimated sound design, which help ground the narrative in place and time. The cast’s choreography around the stage is also finely tuned by Kally Lloyd-Jones.

Graham Greene is unlikely to be many people’s first suggestion if asked to name a comedy writer, but Havergal’s adaptation and Phillip Breen’s direction ensure sufficient laughs without sacrificing any of the play’s intrigue and the deeper moral issues which permeate the novel. Despite its post-Second World War setting, the ultimate success of this revival is showing the play’s continued relevance to today, both in terms of theatre and the world we live in.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Giles Havergal’s stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic comedy of life on the road with retired bank manager and dahlia enthusiast Henry Pulling and his long-lost Aunt Augusta.

When Henry first meets Augusta at his mother’s funeral, he has no idea of the whirlwind of exotic adventures that lie ahead of him. Coaxed into a life on the road, Henry’s new found travels take him across the world smuggling gold and falling in with drug dealers along the way as he unravels the unconventional details of his aunt’s past.

Hilarious, witty and great fun, Giles Havergal’s celebrated stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel challenges a cast of four to bring to life more than 20 characters through the course of the play. First performed at the Citizens Theatre in 1989, the play went on to be a West End hit winning an Olivier Award and is now staged around the world.