Review: Charley's Aunt, Theatre Royal, Bath 7/10 (Alan King)
SINCE it was first produced in 1892 this Brandon Thomas farce has lured many from the theatrical world's Who's Who list to swap trousers for skirts to portray the rich widow from Brazil, "where the nuts come from".
Arthur Askey, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Rex Harrison and John Mills have all donned dresses and ditched dignity to "drag" out the laughs in arguably the best cross-dressing role ever written for the stage.
Add to that list Mathew Horne – star of Gavin and Stacey – whose boyish looks and impish actions are perfectly suited to play Lord Fancourt Babberley the toff who pretends to be Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez and act as a chaperone to help a couple of Oxford chums pursue their love interests.
In a performance that became infectious as it built, Mathew Horne revelled in the absurdity of his character cleverly enticing the audience to become part of the joke.
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When he declares: "I'm a disgrace to my sex" you believe him but are not quite sure which one he means.
It is, of course, a tale too ridiculous to be even slightly believable even in the starch-fronted, properly-primped late 19th century as every caricature from arrogant posh boys to overly twee giggly girls is paraded under Ian Talbot's smooth direction.
A strong cast gives emphatic back-up to the title role.
Jane Asher is all regal elegance as the real aunt, Steven Pacey upright and military as a concerned father, Norman Pace exudes red-faced bombast as he chases after the "lady's" riches and Dominic Tighe and Benjamin Askew bumble and fumble convincingly as the lovelorn under grads. That fine actor Charles Kay is however sadly wasted as a put-upon manservant.
The visit to Bath is the only one outside London for this Menier Chocolate Factory presentation which runs until Saturday.