Travels with my aunt – review

Posted: August 20, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , ,

First Published in The Cape Times: Wednesday 19 August

Directed by:  Alan Swerdlow

Designed by:  Alan Swerdlow and Jannie Swanepoel

Starring:  Graham Hopkins; Theo Landey, Robert Fridjohn and Malan Le Roux.

Adapted by Giles Havergal

Review by:  Astrid Stark


Old-fashioned farcical romp for a mature audience.

Spending a night out on the town with secret agents, Nazis, South American drug lords, art smugglers, and even a salivating Irish wolfhound, is one way to beat the relentless recession blues.  Graham Greene’s wrote Travels with my aunt in 1969 and he described it as, ‘the one book I wrote just for the fun of it’. Giles Havergal adapted it for the stage and it is his version, under the direction of Alan Swerdlow, which is currently on show at The Theatre on the Bay.  It tells the tale of Henry Pulling, a naive, retired bank manager whose only hobby is tending his dahlias; until he meets his eccentric, capricious aunt Agatha at his mother’s funeral. Aunt Agatha instantly decides to save Henry from his dull as dishwater existence.  Their madcap adventure takes them across three continents in hot pursuit of the shady Mr Visconti, whom Aunt Agatha has lusted after all her life.  Along their journey they are mostly on the wrong side of the law and they find themselves mingling with a rather unsavoury menagerie of characters. 

Four of finest actors do their best to act out the more than twenty characters in this farcical travel adventure. Graham Hopkins, Theo Landey and Robert Fridjohn have reunited again after performing together in the very funny, satirical play, Pythonesque.  Malan Le Roux, of High School Musical, is new to their ensemble. They all play a variety of roles which include pot smoking hippies, CIA agents, waiters and thugs. For the better part of the play the four actors are dressed in suits regardless of which characters they are enacting. The play is fast and the character changes relentless.  At times it all gets a little confusing. If you’re a fan of Graham Green’s humour – and if you have read the book – you will be able to follow the plot and characters with greater ease.

Veteran actor Graham Hopkins plays the role of the wacky Aunt Agatha with much relish. However his portrayal of her comes across as a slightly camp caricature, which may be intentional, but the shrill voice which Hopkins uses for her starts to grind the nerves after some time.  Agatha as a character is zany and highly unorthodox which is refreshing in these politically correct times. She is constantly in the hot water with the police and in her defence she exclaims, “I have never planned anything illegal in my life.  How could I plan anything of the kind when I have never read any of the laws and have no idea what they are?”

Theo Landey is an ace with accents and his portrayal of an African called Wordsworth instantly transforms him without the need for make-up or a change of clothing.  Landey also give a chilling impersonation of a mafia boss that would’ve made Marlon Brando proud.   At times the various support roles of Landey, Le Roux and Fridjohn stole the limelight from the seductively psychotic Aunt Agatha. 

Alan Swerdlow and Jannie Swanepoel’s stage and set design is ingenious and good fun.  Two enormous wooden pillars in the centre of the stage serve as cupboards from which all sorts of travel paraphernalia are plucked. From the pillars the actors also open and close doorways and frames to depict the various exotic destinations they travel through. The lighting greatly enhances the stage design and together with the sound effects creates wonderfully evocative moods for places such as Istanbul, Paris and South America.

Despite the actors’ best intentions, the play does come across as dated and the old-fashioned humour sometimes turns a smile but seldom a guffaw.  Travels will appeal to a mature, sophisticated crowd that enjoys the likes of The 39 Steps. It is a good play to take your parents or aunt to and even an uncle in drag will fit perfectly into the evening’s bizarre entertainment.

Showing at The Theatre On The Bay until 29 August. Tickets vary from R90 to R125 and are available through the theatre’s box office or at any Computicket outlet.

  1. Lelia says:

    LOVE YOUR BLOG, v good writing . YOU GO GIRL!


  2. niels says:

    Nicely written. but I have to ask… did you like it?


  3. astridstark1 says:

    It is always a pleasure watching accomplished actors do their thing. The set design was superb. Howver the material was too dated and the humour not quite appealing to me – personally. I did work for a lot of other people. So the trick with this kind of review is to be objective, fair, and to try and illustrate both its redeeming and its bad qualities without prejudice. If you enjoy Agatha Christie style writing – you will enjoy this.


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