9:00am Tuesday 9th April 2013
By Duncan Hall
For more than 120 years, audiences have been laughing at the antics of Donna Lucia, the titular Charley’s Aunt in Brandon Thomas’s play who hails from Brazil – “where the nuts come from”.
It is set to be the first farce produced by touring theatre company Creative Cow, who are no strangers to classic plays ranging from Sheridan to Pinter.
“Farces tend to suit our style,” says co-founder of the company Katherine Senior, who also plays two roles in the play.
“Our Charley’s Aunt is not a traditional production in the sense we are not using a full cast.
“The way we work we are always pushing the pace of the show – and pace is important for a farce.”
The play was penned and first performed in 1892 and the company has decided to keep it firmly rooted in that period – despite productions up to the 1940s keeping it in modern dress.
“It is so period we could never update it,” says Senior. “The whole point of going to the theatre is escapism, to get that sense of a different experience. If you can keep the piece to when it was written it makes it feel real and works better.”
Charley’s Aunt tells the story of two Oxford undergraduates, Charley and Jack, who have fallen in love with two girls.
When Charley discovers his aunt, a rich widow, is paying him a visit, he invites the two girls to lunch so the two friends can declare their love to them, while another friend, Babbs, distracts Donna Lucia who would be acting as chaperone to the two ladies.
Unfortunately their plans go awry when it is announced Donna Lucia has been delayed – and an unwilling Babbs is convinced to don a frock and deputise in her place.
The farce says a lot about a class of people often separated through their early years at boarding school and instilled with complex rules of society that cannot be broken for fear of disgrace.
“The girls are so innocent,” says Senior. “When they first discover Charley’s Aunt hasn’t arrived in the first scene they are thrown into a panic and run off to go shopping.
“The way the boys act with the girls and the way the girls react is all very stilted.”
At the same time, the Victorian period adds a certain element to the farce.
“With our knowledge of the period you’re laughing at what it was like then, with the typical English reserve,” says Senior.
“It still works for a modern audience – comedy doesn’t really age unless it is topical.
“A lot of the comedy comes out of the audience being a part of it and seeing Babbs struggling to play an old lady.
“He has no warning whatsoever about what is going to happen, but by act three he is starting to perfect the character. It is a great journey and very well-structured.”
Although the original play was in three acts, Creative Cow has condensed the last two acts down for modern audiences.
“Today’s audiences don’t really want to sit for more than two hours in the theatre,” says Senior.
“We haven’t taken much out but the pace we have got going really keeps the timing down, it doesn’t feel long!”
Creative Cow began on a Devon farm in 2007, based around the trio of Senior, fellow professional actor Jonathan Parish and artistic director Amanda Knott.
“We started in pub theatres with three- handers,” says Senior. “We have built up gradually – creating a style.”
Their impressive CV includes touring productions of Harold Pinter’s The Lover, John Osbourne’s Look Back In Anger, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, and most recently Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals.
“We are a small touring rep theatre group in the old-fashioned sense,” says Senior.
“Our sets aren’t massive – they can fit into the back of a Transit van. The actors all help set everything up when we get to venues and take it down at the end.
“We never had a mission statement or anything like that – it all just came about naturally and seems to be working!”
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