#2016WRITE – Travels With My Aunt Review

Did you see my Mouse Trap review a little while ago? Well I’ve done another one… This time for Travels With My Aunt. Thank you Lighthouse Poole, Young Reviewers!

Travels with my Aunt - Lighthouse Poole - Creative Cow Company

Travels With My Aunt, written by Graham Greene, came to Lighthouse, Poole and was performed by the Creative Cow Company. They created an interesting take on a well-loved book that has been doing the rounds in theatres and on screen for the past 40 years. I took the chance to go and see it on a Saturday afternoon in April.

The curtain goes up and you’re introduced to the cast of four, all wearing identical 3 piece suits, who had the interesting task of playing 10+ characters in the story. The fast chopping and changing of roles and faces meant the only way to keep track was to keep an eye out for the waving of a careful choice of small character distinguishing props and ear out for the most outrageous use of accents.

Straight-laced, retired bank manager, Mr. Henry Pulling when at his mother’s funeral, meets his Aunt Augusta – distinguished by the flourish of an ever-present pair of Dame-Edna-esque glasses and an upper-class drawling voice – for the first time. Shocked that Henry has never left the country, Aunt Augusta demands he joins her on a trip to Brighton. But only after dropping the bombshell that the woman they have just buried isn’t really his Mother.

One thing leads to another and safe Mr. Pulling finds his sense of adventure through following his absurdly eccentric Aunt on her world wide quest to flash her cash, smuggle stolen treasures and find her long lost love, the questionable Mr. Visconti, in the dangerous side of Panama.

All this sounds like it should be quite a laugh, but actually? I found it quite boring. I stayed awake (which is more than can be said of the person sat behind me) and it just about held my attention but I wasn’t actively enjoying myself. I felt the obligation of appreciating the work of the actors in front of me and the guilt of longing to be somewhere else on my Saturday afternoon.

Whilst the acting was good and I enjoyed the fast paced way every actor chopped and changed between characters, I didn’t connect with any of them. To be completely honest I haven’t even remembered their names. The only reason I’ve got them in this review is down to Google.

I think this is down the play being so stereotypically 1920’s English (even though it’s set in post-WW2 London). From the pronunciation of “three piece ss-yew-ts” to the uncomfortable racial stereotyping you were always a few social barriers away from making any connection with the people portrayed on the stage. All the character dialogue stayed on surface level. There were a few moments that looked like it could open up to Graham Greene’s comment on love and morality – which would have added a fascinating layer to the mix – but they were quickly overshadowed by more frivolity.

It’s a shame; because I’ve heard people share their love for the book and their love for Creative Cow Company. Maybe Travels With My Aunt doesn’t quite translate into 21st century theatre… it’s another story that reinforces the posh ‘tally-hoe’ English theatre stereotype that can make even the most entertaining parts of the narrative just a little bit dull, and make a reasonably young audience switch off.

So I’ve decided I’m going to read the book and see if it comes across better on paper. I’m also going to see a different Creative Cow Company show, because, despite me not enjoying Travels with my Aunt, their performance has made me intrigued about what else they can do.

Let’s just hope they’re not wearing “ss-yew-ts” again.

#2016WRITE – The Mousetrap Review

You may know I’ve set a few intentions about writing more. Well, you’ll be pleased to know I’ve signed up for a writing course!

Young Reviewers at The Lighthouse Poole.

Turns out you don’t have to be all that young to take part!

Over the course of 4 months I’ll go to a bunch of plays/dance shows/live music events and have sessions with various industry professionals learning how to review something well.

Last Saturday we got together and saw The Mousetrap (an Agatha Christie Classic) with theatre reviewers Paul London and Johnny Fox. Paul and Johnny told us some of their tips re. getting published and out of the box approaches to reviewing… though their take away message was:

“Theatre Reviewing is the perfect hobby because it pays for itself. Just don’t expect it to pay for anything else… like rent, bills or food.”

Fair enough, I’m in it for culture anyway!

I’ve just finished my review of The Mousetrap… So here it is, just for you.

The Mousetrap - Agatha Christie

On a fairly nippy Saturday afternoon, I joined a new club. The automatic membership to the ‘Do Not Tell Anyone “Who did it” in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap Club’ comes with heavy responsibility, a heavy responsibility that anyone who is part of the ‘What’s the Deal with The Sixth Sense Club’ will understand.

The Mousetrap, which has the warm familiarity of any Agatha Christie story, is a classic – thanks to its claim of being the longest running play in the history of British theatre. 

The story, unsurprisingly, is about murder.  A vicious killer is on the loose after strangling a woman in London and now he or she is heading to the very-well-to-do hotel where a group of unwitting potential victims stay. Potential victims whose pasts are connected in some way, not that they know it yet, to the murderer… A murderer who may well be in their midst. A snowstorm hits and everyone is trapped in the hotel: the secrets come out and the mystery starts to unravel.

The play could be told in a dark and frightening fashion – you won’t be able to listen to the children’s nursery rhyme 3 Blind Mice in the same way again – but instead the style provides an easy watching performance that had the audience chuckling throughout.

The characters, already quite stereotypical to Christie, have been caricatured. The matron, Mrs Boyle, is fierce and not to be messed with. The newly married Mr & Mrs Rolston are sweet and doting. The young and artistic Christopher Wren is terribly flamboyant. The stand-offish socialist, Miss Casewell, stands tall and proud in her trouser suit. The mysterious foreigner, Mr Paravicini is outrageously flirtatious. Retired Major Metcalf, is the fatherly protector with a war story in hand.

It was comedic Christopher Wren, played by Oliver Gully, that set the tone for the play.

Wren’s entrance was loud and magnificent, his vowels long and drawn out and his daft, child like love for the macabre – along with Mrs Boyle’s ability to be wound up and Mr Rolston’s sarcastic comments – meant that even the most serious scenes would illicit a snigger from the audience, thanks to the repartee between this clearly incompatible group stuck in a snowstorm together.

Yes, there is suspense. We, the audience, rippled in empathy when the characters stubbornly refuse to aid a clearly frustrated (and shouty) Sergeant Trotter in his investigation (“If you don’t share what you know and one of you dies, well you’ve only got yourself to blame!”) and there was definitely an audible gasp when the killer was revealed.

But after a few moments of anguish once the killer is caught, bizarrely, everything returns to life as normal for our characters. Perhaps it’s the indomitable, plucky English spirit and its ability to buck up and carry on; come rain, shine or murder.

So I suppose you would like to know the following:

Is it worth going to see? All in all, yes.

Is it worth the money?  I think so. (Disclaimer: I got my ticket as part of the Young Reviewers course at The Lighthouse Theatre, so I don’t actually know how much it cost!)

Would I be happy to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon in my local theatre watching it? The theatre was packed and everyone seemed to come out happy, so I think that’s a pretty good sign.

It’s not the edgiest play in the world and it won’t leave you awake at night thinking about the allegories of the plot, the characters or their relationships. But it is a British classic that will certainly  entertain you for the afternoon.

And you get to join the club.

Now, I wonder if I’ll get a badge…

The Mousetrap is currently touring around the UK. Tour dates can be found at www.mousetrapontour.com.