I was back at the Citizen’s Theatre this week to see Travels with my Aunt, an adaptation of a Graham Greene novel that I knew nothing about.
It turns out the story follows Henry on an adventure with his Aunt Augusta. Henry is a retired bank manager and allows himself to be dragged across Europe and beyond. I confess to not having read the novel (or any Greene, I promise to work on that). As we took our seats, Raj, who had organised the trip, said that he had read the book but didn’t remember much of it.
In this version, at least, the story is told in the first person by three actors, all playing the part of Henry as needed, as well as the parts of the other characters as needed. A fourth actor appears to carry out certain actions, but I don’t think he ever had a line. The result is as confusing as it sounds, but only for the first 60 seconds. By that time, you’ve worked out what’s going on and the whole thing fits neatly into place. From there on, it’s brilliant.
The four actors are identically dressed and indicate that they’re currently playing one of the many non-Henry characters through a change in voice, posture, a very minor change in costume (such as the removal of a hat or the addition of a pair of glasses) and by occasionally appending, for example, “…said Aunt Augusta” to what they had just said. Quite apart from the effect being remarkable and hilarious, it was perfectly clear. It also did wonders for the imagination – despite the fact that Aunt Augusta was played by three different men, I have an exact image of the septuagenarian women in my head. Surely, this is a kind of magic?
There is some division of labour between the actors. Tony Crownie tends to take on the younger characters and the young girl Toolie, who Henry and Augusta meet on the Orient Express, is especially wonderful. Likewise, Joshua Richards does a terrifying range of outrageous accents, which I’m not 100% sure I should have been laughing at, but it was so playful that it worked, and I did anyway.
It’s a wonderful piece of cheerful, life-affirming theatre that manages a good whack of satire without becoming eye-rollingly sardonic and I loved it. Three cheers for The Citz.