Review: Charley’s Aunt (Proud Haddock)

A lively reading of the perennial comedy streamed live on 11 April 2021 to raise funds for the Equity Arts Fund. This play centres on two students (Jack, played by Ed McArthur, and Charley, played by Hamilton‘s Karl Queensborough) trying to woo their respective ladies of choice – to do this they need the presence of Charley’s aunt Donna Lucia, but will she turn up in time?

With a starry cast of ten under the technical wizardry of Anna Oggero, Lord Fancourt “Babbs” Babberley (Will Hislop) dons a rather unflattering wig to play the titular aunt, quickly drawing the attentions of two old lotharios (Gyles Brandreth, a fortune hunter looking to settle his debts, and randy Gary Wilmot, both in prime comic form).

Despite the titters of butler Brassett (Oliver Beamish), the Lord almost gets away with his impersonation, but a spanner hits the works when the real Donna Lucia (Issy van Randwyck) arrives with her orphaned companion Ela (Katie Okehurst) in tow. Confusion is bound to ensue as the claret flows.

Brandon Thomas’s play is still resolutely Victorian, although a few amendments have been made to the text to give it a fruitier flavour: the girls are demure, men are expected to wear their hats and behave with propriety, and wealth wins the day.

The ladies in the case are played impeccably by Skye Hallam (Kitty) and Ruby Bentall (Amy), while Hislop treads strongly in the footsteps of previous fake Aunts such as Danny La Rue, Arthur Askey, Jack Benny, Ray Bolger, John Mills, Frankie Howerd, Charlies Ruggles, Richard Briers, and many more.

In the tradition of romantic comedy of the time, most people are coupled up by the end, with even Babbs finding the lost love of his life. What the reading misses, of course, is any sense of visual farce in the situation, but the comic chops of the cast cleverly navigate around this limitation and give us an entertaining evening.

Charley’s Aunt can still be viewed for free at https://youtu.be/d-z1GPKlu9E. For more about Proud Haddock, go here.

Donations are welcome for the Equity Charitable Trust by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/equitycharitabletrust.

Check out my review of Charley’s Aunt at the Questors Theatre in 2019.

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