During my weekend trip to Chichester, as well as An Enemy of the People (running until Saturday 21st May) I also had time to see a matinee of Travels With My Aunt. With a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, this is a new musical based on the 1969 novel by Graham Greene.
It’s a simple (and rather ridiculous) story in which Henry Pulling (Steven Pacey) is perfectly happy with his quiet, uneventful retirement. He has his garden and his dahlias and that’s quite enough for him. However, his life soon takes an unexpected and more adventurous turn when, at his mother’s funeral, he meets his Aunt Augusta. Before he knows it, he is fleeing police and on a flight to Paris where his travels with his aunt are only just beginning.
This isn’t the greatest, slickest musical by a long way. It was however quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in Chichester and certainly seemed to go down very well with its target audience.
There were aspects of the story that didn’t work for me and which I think highlight the era in which the original book was written, dating the piece as a whole. There is a lot of cliché and cheesy stereotypes on display, such as the under-developed character of Wordsworth, Augusta’s black lover from Sierra Leone. Also Henry’s growing closeness to Tooley (Haley Flaherty), a young hippie they meet along the way, didn’t appeal to me at all and unfortunately I never saw this as romantic, but rather just a bit creepy. It’s nicely played by both actors, but I couldn’t take it seriously. Also, although the songs do contain some rather witty lines throughout, none of them are particularly memorable.
Having said all of that, I did enjoy this production for what it was – a quaint, old-fashioned story, which tries to make its audience realise that you are never too old to do anything. The set design has been well thought through by Colin Falconer, who manages to pack a lot in to the small space he has in the Minerva. The use of the centre box as bar, waiting room and entry to Augusta’s flat all worked well and minimal props do a great job of transporting us to each new location on the journey.
The strongest aspects of the show are the performances of Steven Pacey as Henry and Patricia Hodge as Augusta. Pacey plays Henry’s strait-laced English gentleman very well and you do quite like him, finding yourself amused by his exasperation at what he sees as his Aunt’s recklessness. Hodge is wonderful as Augusta. In her smart, colourful, stylish outfits she is a lot of fun and I couldn’t help thinking I wouldn’t mind being that free-spirited in my old age! You admire her passion for life, although imagine if you were Henry, she’d drive you crazy too. They two do have a lovely chemistry that really works here and I found that scenes which focus on them were much stronger than some of the others and it is them who keep you engaged.
So, overall, I wouldn’t say you should make a special trip to Chichester just to see this production. It is however perfectly pleasant for anyone in the area looking to escape from the real world for a couple of hours.
Travels With my Aunt continues its run at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester until 4th June 2016. Running-time is 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval). For more information visit the website.