The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
December 27, 29, 30, 2003 – January 1, 2 & 3 [+ mat.] 2004.
by Brandon Thomas
Rols Ham-Riche – Jack Chesney
Simon Druce – Brassett
John Garland – Charley Wykeham
Mark Best – Lord Fancourt Babberley
Jenny Burtenshaw – Kitty Verdun
Maria Skinner – Amy Spettigue
Peter Thompson – Sir Francis Chesney
John Barham – Stephen Spettigue
Rosemary Mose – Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez
Katie Foulsham – Ela Delahay
Directors Assistant – Joan Bearman
Directors Assistant – Sue Whittaker
Lighting – Mike Medway
Sound – Simon Snelling
Stage Manager – David Comber
Technical Stage Manager – David Bickers
ASM – Sheila Holgate-Wright
Technicians – Chris Grey
Technicians – Janice Gooch
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Properties – Margaret Davy
Wardrobe – Margaret Pierce
Wardrobe – Cherry Briggs
Special Costumes & Wigs – Sheila Neesham
Set Construction – David Collis
Set Construction – Mike Davy
Set Construction – Brian Box
Set Construction – David Comber
Set Construction – Marc Lewis
Set Painting – Sheila Neesham
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Press & Publicity – Judith Berrill
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Front of House Co-ordinator – Betty Dawes
Programme Note #1: Charley’s Aunt
TM wrote: “Charley’s Aunt first appeared on the London stage 111 years ago – almost to the day – and has been delighting audiences ever since. Although the author, Brandon Thomas, wrote a number of successful light plays. Charley’s Aunt is the only one that retains enormous popularity. The play is usually to be found in production somewhere in the world, To my knowledge, however, this is the first time it has found its way onto the Barn stage.
The reason for its popularity is easy to see – put a man in a dress to help out some friends and wait for the confusion and complications to arrive -they undoubtedly will! It matters not that the social etiquette no longer dictates the need of chaperones [the cause of the action], the situation is timeless. The humour comes from embarrassment this situation causes. Long may the simple things in life continue to amuse.
Throughout the past century Charley’s Aunt has seen many revisions. This has resulted in other characters assuming the rôle of the ‘aunt’. In the musical version, starring Norman Wisdom, Charley becomes his own aunt [as he does in the film version starring Arthur Askey]. In a television production Eric Sykes, playing the rôle of Brassett, is persuaded to assume the garb of ‘auntie’. In the Wick version I have kept to the original and let Babbs retain the honour of becoming “Charley’s Aunt, from Brazil, where the nuts come from”.
Review #1: Charley’s Aunt
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: January 8 2004 issue – Leisure Scene Section – page 4
Reviewer: Jamie Hailstone
Text Header: Jolly good show from Wick
JUST what is it about the season of good will and men in dresses? I guess we will never know the answer; but if you need a break from mince, pies, yule logs and all those TV repeats, you could have done a lot worse than spend some time with Wick Theatre Company and their version of Brandon Thomas’s farce, Charley’s Aunt. This charming play at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, was perfect family entertainment.
Charley’s Aunt first appeared on the London stage 111 years ago, and this comedy of mistaken identity has a timeless appeal. Any fan of P G Wodehouse would have found themselves at home with the machinations of poor Charles [John Garland] and Jack [Rols Ham-Riche], who want to spent the afternoon with their girlfriends, Amy [Maria Skinner] and Kitty [Jenny Burtenshaw]. The snag is the girls’ disapproving guardian, Stephen Spettique [John Barham]. But, fortunately, Charley’ rich aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, is coming to town, and he would be the perfect chaperone.
When she fails to turn up, they enlist fellow student Babbs [Mark Best] to impersonate her. Then Jack’s father, Sir Francis Chesney [Peter Thompson], arrives; and to make matters worse, so does the real Donna Lucia [Rosemary Mose] and her ward Ela Delahay [Katie Foulsham].
Still, there’s always Brassett [Simon Druce] the butler to help out!
Expertly directed by Antony Muzzall, Charley’s Aunt had plenty of pace and laughs. All in all, a jolly good show!
Review #2: Charley’s Aunt
Publication: Brighton Argus
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
Text Header: Unknown
As Christmastime is associated with chestnuts it is perhaps appropriate that the Wick Theatre Company has chosen an old chestnut for their festive offering. Brandon Thomas’ classic farce is over one hundred years old and even evokes an age when it was considered most improper for young men to entertain any young lady in their rooms without the presence of suitable chaperone. It is on this situation that the play is founded.
Jack and Charley, two students at Oxford, take advantage of the imminent arrival of Charley’s Ant from Brazil, to invite Kitty and Amy, the objects of their affections, to lunch in their college rooms. However, the aunt is delayed and they are forced to coerce one of their fellow students to dress up and impersonate the Aunt in the interests of propriety. True to all farces mayhem follows.
Sadly the play shows its age and the writing lacks the wit to work well for present day audiences. Although there were echoes of Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Ernest, in so much as we had two men struggling against social restrictions of the times to court their young ladies, the text was far inferior. In the programme notes the Director said that he chose the original version rather than the subsequent revised versions. One wonders if the cast would not have been better served by one of these.
Whilst the play moved at a lively pace it did occasionally lead to lines being rushed and losing clarity. On the night I attended the last line of the play proved to be an anti-climax and needed to be pointed more to be effective. The hard working cast strove valiantly to extract the maximum humour from the piece. Whilst they were successful in the set pieces of ‘business’ it was felt that they were let down by the writing. The evening provided amused smiles rather than hearty laughter.
Review #3: Charley’s Aunt
Publication: West Sussex Gazette
Reviewer: Jeremy Mailes
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The Wick Theatre Company produced Charley’s Aunt at the Barn Theatre in Southwick last week. This late Victorian workhorse of a farce offers plenty of opportunities for innovation and Tony Muzzall’s intelligent direction brought out stylish, vivid performances from all of the principals. Mark Best, who has an uncanny resemblance to Philip Seymour Hoffman, was a tower of strength as Fancourt Babberley and the eponymous cross dresser. It can be an intimidating rôle having been played by an assortment of legends ranging from Jack Benny to Norman Wisdom, Roddy McDowall to Alec Guinness. Best rose to the challenge admirably, giving the piece a few subtle Some Like It Hot overtones, particularly with his indignation at being redressed by Jack and Charley when he leaves the dinner party. He maintained a twittering, fluty delivery throughout and was particularly resourceful when commenting on the action and emphasising double meanings.
Maria Skinner and Jenny Burtenshaw were suitably decorative as the female love interests with Burtenshaw being assured and wonderfully playful when her suitor’s proposal is interrupted. Rosemary Mose was feisty and teasing in her twin parts of Mrs. Beverley-Smythe and Charley’s real aunt. Like Best, she was alive to every scrap of dramatic irony. Peter Thompson found personable and convincing traits in his rôle as a ramrod straight ex-army officer but dithering, indulgent father. He had a winning manner with his malleable facial gestures and was a flurry of moustache twirling angst.
Criticisms? Only a few cavils. Set in 1893, the production’s main piece of incidental music is Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’. Waller once said that he composed the piece ‘in a long half hour and a short bottle of gin’. But he wrote it in 1929, almost 40 years after the action here. One other observation, the piece sorely needed a change of scenery for Act III.
The production abounded in inventive stagecraft and linguistic subtleties. It underlines the strength-in-depth of one of the most accomplished amateur drama companies in the county.
Review #4: Charley’s Aunt
Publication: Words & Music
Publication Data: Issue 109 – March/April 2004
Reviewer: Gordon Bull
Camp it was, which Brandon Thomas’ play has to be nowadays, set as it is out of time. But it could have been more so. Pantomimic characters must surely be larger than life, so the initial scenes were caught between two stools with some rushed nervous intercourse between college undergrads Jack [Rols Ham-Riche] and Charles [John Garland] where good projection was essential. The opening soliloquy lacked stage direction and relief only came with the arrival of Brassett [Simon Druce], the quiet-voiced butler and Jack’s father Sir Francis [Peter Thompson] to settle things down. The arrival of the two unchaperoned young ladies caused the stir since Charleys’ Aunt, Donna Lucia [Rosemary Mose] had messaged to say she would not be on time and propriety demanded that college friend Babbs [Mark Best] step into the breech.
Enter the true dame suitably kitted out, wig an all, and entered into with great sprit. Effectively convincing the girls, he drew the jealousy of their beaux as he received kisses and hugs of genuine affection. Meanwhile Sir Francis, having been earlier primed by his son that that the aunt was rich, plied his suit but, thankfully was rejected. Nor so Spettigue [John Barham] the guardian of the ladies who also turned up and pursued his opportunities with verve. Pretending to agree to an engagement Babbs, as aunt manages to unwillingly wheedle out of him a written agreement to his charges becoming affianced to the lads. When the real aunt arrives all is chaos and she keeps Mum for a while Amazingly, her companion is none other than an old treasured girl friend of Babbs, Ella Delahay [K. Foulsham]. Miss Foulsham certainly knew her words, if only her sureness had been matched with more projection and definition, it would have added some sparkle.
Jenny Burtenshaw and Maria Skinner were the two capable lovelies Kitty and Amy and, as with the cast as a whole, were beautifully costumed in the period. You can imagine the scene that ensued when Donna Lucia revealed her true self, but other than Spettigue, all ended up neatly coupled. Even my ten year old thought it was a scream!