|< Previous production|
By Graham Greene
Director PHYLLIS SPENCER
His eccentric Aunt Augusta persuades retired bank manager Henry to abandon his dull life and embark upon a series of unexpected and hilarious adventures. Travelling with his aunt to Brighton, Paris, Istanbul and then across the world to South America, Henry encounters his aunt’s shady associates – pot-smoking hippies, war criminals, men from the CIA and art smugglers. Henry finds himself coming alive as he puts his former life behind him.
You will realise from the foregoing description that this production is a long way from the three-act, three-set format with which we are all so familiar. It is indeed a most ambitious production because there are some 30 different locations that cannot be represented in a realistic way. So the production has to suggest the locations to the audience, who need to imagine where the action is taking place. Throughout the action, changes to the layout of moving platforms, chairs, tables and other props are quietly made by a black-clad team so the audience is not distracted from the actors.
The play depends upon the monumental performances of John Sivewright, who is perfectly cast as Henry, and Sheila Dove, who portrays very well the vibrant character of Aunt Augusta; she enjoys recounting her many adventures and, particularly, relationships. These actors are on stage throughout almost the entire performance of just over two hours – most impressive. If I had a criticism, it would be that at times, their diction was not as clear as it might have been.
Other characters appear and re-appear in different scenarios – Rob Cording-Cook has two roles, one of which is the unlikely ‘partner’ of Aunt Augusta, but he is convincing in the portrayal of this bizarre relationship. Simon Jackson’s character, Visconti, is referred to throughout the action but he appears only in the final scenes where he does not disappoint given all that we have come to believe about Visconti. The representation of rides in a taxi driven by Colin Pile by various characters is particularly amusing. Colin Pile also plays a detective sergeant who creates moments of suspense in what is essentially a comedy throughout. Jenny Hughes has three roles, two of which are not very brainy police officers – shades of Much Ado earlier this year.
Director Phyllis Spencer has chosen to produce a most challenging play and the Wimborne Drama Productions team has risen magnificently to the challenge.
Philip Atlay, Scene One
Bachelor and retired bank manager Henry Pulling meets his Aunt Augusta after many years at his Mother’s funeral and is amazed when she tells him of her wish that they travel. How quickly John Sivewright captures the naivety of the hapless man as he says: “It didn’t occur to me that she meant further than the seaside.” Much further in fact, as they go on a physical and emotional journey which transforms Henry’s quiet life. Even before they leave England he meets West Indian Wordsworth who is Augusta’s companion/lover, Rob Cording-Cook is truly convincing in the role and never loses the accent.
Heading to France, Henry meets young hippy Tooley - Jemma Cable impresses in the part – and is a kind counsellor to her. A word here for the impressive use of the flexible set which gave that encounter on a train real meaning, as did many other scene representations. Another meeting is with Miss Paterson who was his father’s sweetheart and Judy Garrett plays the sad lady with great compassion.
Augusta has a shady past and, when they go to South America, she meets again the love of her life, Mr Visconti who was a war criminal. Grey of hair and moustache, Simon Jackson is ideal in the role although the thick accent is sometimes hard to understand. American O’Toole (well played by Martyn Brown) is another dodgy character with a link
The pivotal role of 75- year-old Aunt Augusta is a challenging one and Sheila Dove - a most accomplished and experienced actor – plays it with spirit yet empathy. Like Henry she is rarely off-stage and the pair work well together and are totally believable as their journeys take them across the world, into danger and unexpected relationships.
Ann McColgan-Clark as Miss Keane is splendid as is Jenny Hughes in several parts while Colin Pile works hard as Sergeant Sparrow. With so many characters to portray there are ensemble players who take on various roles and director Phyllis Spencer has assembled a stellar cast for this wordy play. Another success for Wimborne Drama Productions.
Pat Scott, Stour & Avon Magazine
Photographs: Richard Neal
Wimborne Drama Productions