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T
ravels with My Aunt
Adapted for the stage by Giles Havergal
from the novel by Graham Greene
 
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 
3 – 20 May 2017
  
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Cast
 
Actor 1 – Ian Redford
Actor 2 – Tony Cownie
Actor 3 – Joshua Richards
Actor 4 – Ewan Somers
  
Director – Phillip Breen 
Designer – Mark Bailey 
Lighting Designer – Tina MacHugh
Music & Lyrics – Grant Olding
Music & Sound Designer – Dyfan Jones

 
 


 
R
eviews

Sunday Herald
by Mark Brown

In 1989 the Citizens Theatre presented a highly-acclaimed staging of Graham Greene's 1969 novel Travels With My Aunt. Adapted by the theatre's (already by then) legendary artistic director Giles Havergal (who also featured in the four-man cast), the piece delighted audiences with its tongue-in-cheek re-telling of the story of Henry Pulling, a retired London bank manager turned unlikely global adventurer.
 
The play is revived now under the fine directorship of Phillip Breen, a rightly celebrated associate artist of the Citz. Retaining the piece's all-male line-up, its glorious, satirical wit and its gently subversive, camp aesthetic, it feels, simultaneously, like a richly-deserved homage to Havergal and the most vibrant production currently appearing on the Scottish stage.
 
Attired in, by turns, the sombre black suite required by Pulling's mother's funeral and the lighter garb demanded by South America (but always with a red dahlia, our protagonist's favourite flower, in their buttonholes), Breen's outstanding cast bring us the full panoply of Greene's characters. Whether it is outrageous and irrepressible Aunt Augusta or her devoted and decent lover Wordsworth (an African cannabis dealer some years her junior), the piece is unerring in its presentation of (that wonderful paradox) the three-dimensional caricature.
 
Thanks to Aunt Augusta, these larger-than-life characters are engaged in a world in which illicit sex, espionage and highly improbable coincidences intermingle as readily as cigarette smoke and the smell of expensive, smuggled whisky. As we traverse the planet, including, inevitably, a journey on the Orient Express, we find the metrosexuality and radical politics of the Sixties seeping out of the most unlikely of figures (such as the daughter of a CIA agent).
 
This is a genuine ensemble piece, in which veteran actors Tony Cownie, Ian Redford and Joshua Richards (who is particularly memorable as Wordsworth) are assisted impressively by their younger colleague Ewan Somers. All-in-all, a compellingly told, perfectly paced and gorgeously humorous evening's theatre.
 
 

The Scotsman
by Joyce McMillan
 
It’s 28 years since - in an effort to save money, one hard-pressed season - the then Citizens’ artistic director Giles Havergal quickly conjured up an adaptation of Graham Greene’s great 1969 novel Travels With My Aunt, to be performed on an almost-bare stage by four men wearing ordinary business suits. Havergal even appeared in the show himself, as well as writing and directing; and so was born one of those legends of theatre, in which a piece of work hastily created for the simplest of practical reasons became a global hit, delighting audiences from London to New York and far beyond.
 
So there’s a special delight in seeing Havergal’s magical adaptation return to the Citizens’ stage, in this new production by Phillip Breen; and all the more so because its subject - the radical one of whether people can change, and perhaps make the world change with them - seems particularly apt at a time when we are constantly being told that the very idea of changing our lives for the better is a mere pipe-dream, to be stamped out as quickly as possible. In the life of Greene’s ageing hero Henry Pulling, the agent of change is his Aunt Augusta, who - in her mid-seventies, but with flaming red hair - turns up at his mother’s funeral to find her bachelor nephew living the ineffably tedious life of a retired bank manager in the London suburbs. In a trice, through his connection with Aunt Augusta, Henry finds himself caught up in a shady but thrilling world of international drug traffickers and fleeing war criminals, which takes him from London to Istanbul, and eventually to a place in Paraguay from which he seems unlikely to return. And the joy of the adaptation is the brilliance with which it captures this process of change, as Henry’s voice shifts between Tony Cownie’s timorously conventional Henry, Joshua Richards’s bowler-hatted City Henry, and Ian Redford, who is both Aunt Augusta, and the hint of that hidden Henry who will eventually come to recognise himself as her kin, even closer than he knows. 
 
Greene’s story is a masterpiece of witty and perceptive social satire, ripping the veil in the most entertaining style from the dirty dealings and illegitimate acts - both sleazy and joyful - that underpin conventional British middle-class life. And Giles Havergal’s superb adaptation does it full justice, capturing every breath of its wit and wickedness; and its profound rejection of the mixture of hypocrisy and ignorance that characterises Henry’s “respectable” life - until Aunt Augusta comes along, and changes everything.
 
 

Glasgow Herald
by Neil Cooper
 
Don't be fooled by the stage's resemblance to a railway station waiting room in a particularly sleepy suburban hamlet, at the opening of Phillip Breen's new staging of Graham Greene's 1969 novel. As the book's adaptor and former Citz co-artistic director Giles Havergal has proven countless times since it was first seen in the same auditorium almost three decades ago, what follows is the most deceptively subversive dissection of society's mores you're likely to see.
 
In a post-Brexit climate, where free movement is being curtailed and fought-for liberties stripped away, Greene's tale of how retired bank manager Henry Pulling is enlightened into new life by his free-thinking Aunt Augusta is also a darkly prescient if still frothy affair. With Havergal's ingenious conceit of having the text split between four men in suits, Breen's quartet look here somewhere between a surrealist's convention and a cosplay tribute to vintage children's TV icon Mr Benn.
 
This allows them to flit between characters and continents in an instant, as a terminally befuddled Henry is led astray into all manner of international intrigues. With the fag end of a sexual revolution hiding in plain sight and mind-expanding experiences on every corner, tending his dahlias is suddenly no longer an option for Henry on a trip that resembles a much belated gap year.
 
As place names are projected onto the back of the stage resembling a text-based painting by that other great adventurer, Bill Drummond, this delicious concoction is performed by Tony Cownie, Ian Redford, Joshua Richards and a gloriously wordless Ewan Somers with a weight that goes far deeper than it might first appear.
 
Arriving onstage in a week where the world – or at least the little British part of it – appears to be over-run by pre-enlightenment Henrys, an unavoidable melancholy seems to hang over things. As Henry himself observes once the results of his own wasted youth gradually dawn on him, a world of “ailing people who only know of danger from the newspapers” is in the miserable ascendant. Now, more than ever, we need a legion of Aunt Augustas to shake those people into choosing life once more.
 
 

The Stage
by Gareth K Vile
 
A highlight of Giles Havergal's era as artistic director at the Citizens, this revival of Travels With My Aunt arrives freighted with expectation. Fortunately, Havergal's sensitive adaptation of Graham Greene's novel allows the clarity of the prose to shine and the strong ensemble performances ensure that Philip Breen’s production is far more than a nostalgic remounting.
 
With the themes of conformity and rebellion retaining a contemporary relevance, and the moral conflicts still dynamic, Breen's direction manages both the humour and the increasing darkness of the second act, entertaining and provoking in equal measure.
 
With the four male cast members sharing the roles – all dressed as protagonist Henry, a mild-mannered retired banker – the adaptation becomes a masterclass in theatrical storytelling.
 
Henry's relationship with his Aunt Augusta becomes a seduction of an innocent into a world of minor war criminals, smuggling and pragmatic CIA agents, with interludes in the counterculture of the 1960s.
 
The versatility of the actors, and Greene's telling dissection of respectability's soul-destroying consequences, turn these episodic adventures into a complex story of unlikely redemption and acceptance.
 
Designer Mark Bailey situates the action in an indeterminate space that expresses both the spiritual emptiness of the retired banker's London and the wide open spaces of South America, while conjuring the excitement of travel: simple chairs transforming into trains and hotel rooms.
 
Some of the characters are inevitably underdeveloped and Augusta's lover Winston is represented as a crude racial stereotype.
 
The morality of the conclusion is left hanging, yet Breen's production celebrates this past triumph by drawing out its modern theatrical and social relevance. Charming and sprightly, its lightness of touch emphasises the power of Greene’s social message.
 
 

The Reviews Hub
by Harriet Brace

When a story starts with a funeral it’s usually fair to assume the tale will end as it began – in tragedy. And often with more than a small dose of doom and gloom along the way. Not so Travels with My Aunt.
 
Instead the melancholy affair introduces a whirlwind of pot-smoking, free-loving, law-bending adventure and one of literature’s greats – the titular Aunt Augusta.
 
Adapted from the well-known novel by Graham Greene, the play follows retired bank manager Henry Pulling, whose life’s ambition doesn’t extend far beyond his own patch of suburban England. Content enough to spend his days growing dahlias – probably in very straight lines – Henry finds himself thrust towards expanded horizons by an encounter with his estranged Aunt at his mother’s funeral. As the two, thrown together, travel across the continent and eventually to South America, Henry finds himself embroiled in life outside the law – and not necessarily hating it.
 
Full of reckless frenzy from start to finish, Giles Havergal’s adaptation for the stage has its own legacy of rebellion that adds another layer of intrigue to the tale. First staged at the Citz in 1989 it was selected, in part, because the theatre was broke after a budget-busting production of Hamlet. Travels with My Auntrequired minimal set and costume, and just four actors.
 
It was also an early part of the Citz’s people’s revolution – one that threw open its doors to diverse audiences and saw the introduction of open access initiatives that continue to this day, such as 50p tickets.
 
With Phillip Breen at the helm, this reincarnation stays faithful to Citz legend Havergal’s original adaptation – and far from being tired, it feels apt. True to the theatre’s pioneering spirit it’s also a real challenge for its actors, each of whom takes on the role not just of Henry himself but also multiple other characters of different genders, nationalities, financial means – and even species.
 
Perhaps that’s why Travels with My Aunt has attracted such a stellar cast of four. Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Joshua Richards has the unenviable task of ‘going native’ with a plethora of colourful characters from across the globe – from a dictatorial Turkish military commander to a migrant from Sierra Leone who’s part of a smuggling plot. Meanwhile Tony Cownie, last seen at the Citz in The Libertine three years since, is a CIA operative, a wanderlusting teenager and a lovesick spinster self-exiled to South Africa.
 
Ian Redford has his work cut out portraying the inimitable Aunt Augusta, and does so with aplomb – his mannerisms equally as expressive as his speech and instantly recognisable as the anti-matriarch, even in quick succession to a stint as Henry. While former Citizens Actor Intern, Ewan Somers, can boast an extra feather in his (bowler) hat as Wolf – a dog – and steals one of the standout scenes of the show with a cackle-inducing sequence that starts in a car and ends up under a tank.
 
Mark Bailey’s set design meanwhile reflects the raw, uncluttered quality of the acting. The minimal set consists of multiple props placed seemingly at random yet moved, avoided, shared and slammed in sequences so meticulously choreographed that they seem effortless.
 
The play cleverly takes the audience from country to country through quick additions to costume and adjustments to light, using the creative team’s talent to create subtle shifts in atmosphere. A particularly poignant moment in an otherwise fast-paced stage plot sees set chairs turned upside-down and at angles to represent a graveyard, the stones and caskets creepily crooked among the upright actors interacting among them.
 
Despite having been staged all over the world, Travels with My Aunt still feels like a fresh piece of theatre. Perhaps that’s ironic, given adapter Havergal’s penchant for “disregarding the heritage”, but Phillip Breen’s fidelity to the play’s original staging only enhances its appeal.
 
This little piece of people’s history retains its eccentric, enigmatic and unconventional charm, and is a joy to finally have back home at the Citz.
 
 

Broadway Baby
by Paul F Cockburn
 
This is a homecoming, of sorts; the revival of a play, first performed at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre back in 1989, which subsequently enjoyed successful productions in the West End and off-Broadway. Adapted from Graham Greene's 1969 novel by Giles Havergal (who, alongside Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald, ran the Citizens between 1969 and 2003), it’s a work which inspires real emotional involvement despite relying on what could be dismissed as a theatrical "gimmick".
 
Namely, the fact that all four of the cast play the central character Henry Pulling—frequently swapping mid-scene, while on several occasions doing so simultaneously. Despite this, and the speed at which it happens, there’s no confusion; each actor contributes some aspect to the otherwise bland figure of the 55-year-old bachelor, the retired (and retiring) bank manager whose only pleasure—at least until he's dragged into the bohemian maelstrom of Aunt Augusta and her adventures—was the cultivation of his dahlias. Only Ewan Somers, the youngest, draws the short straw in terms of having anything to say. 
 
What continuity there is comes from the other roles the four actors play; “Actor 1” Ian Redford, for example, successfully embodies Henry’s Aunt Augusta with little more than a lightness of voice and a certain delicacy in posture. Joshua Richards (“Actor 3”) seems to specialise in the “foreigners”, which unfortunately includes the African-born Wordsworth, Aunt Augusta’s devoted valet (and lover) whose clear-cut morality stands as a real contrast to the minor war criminal, smugglers and CIA operative which Henry encounters in his travels—the racial stereotyping of the “noble savage”, admittedly, probably being Greene rather than Havergal’s fault. 
 
The cast’s obvious versatility — Tony Cownie (“Actor 2”) successfully plays both a young American “gap year” student and her CIA-employed father, while Somers (“Actor 4”) at one point plays a randy Irish hound—supports a heightened theatricality reflected in Mark Bailey’s suitably indeterminate set, which is essentially a collection of necessary props rather than an attempt at defining a specific location. This works well with Tina Machugh’s lighting and Dylan Jones’ too-easily-underestimated sound design, which help ground the narrative in place and time. The cast’s choreography around the stage is also finely tuned by Kally Lloyd-Jones.
 
Graham Greene is unlikely to be many people’s first suggestion if asked to name a comedy writer, but Havergal’s adaptation and Phillip Breen’s direction ensure sufficient laughs without sacrificing any of the play’s intrigue and the deeper moral issues which permeate the novel. Despite its post-Second World War setting, the ultimate success of this revival is showing the play’s continued relevance to today, both in terms of theatre and the world we live in.
 
 
 
The List 
by Lorna Irvine
 
This revival of erstwhile Citizens Artistic Director Giles Havergal's adaptation of Graham Greene's classic, directed by Phillip Breen, should feel like it's preserved in aspic, with little left to say. The eerie design by Mark Bailey suggests as much, with bowler hatted statues of crusty old English stereotypes to the side of the stage.
 
Yet, Travels with my Aunt brims with energy, with fantastic central performances by Tony Cownie and Ian Redford. Cownie's meek, uptight Henry is countered by a plethora of eccentrics and criminals, as the sixties kicks down the old establishment.
 
Some racially dubious accents notwithstanding (Joshua Richards' drug-dealing Wordsworth feels an ill fit in such a timeless production), the globetrotting encounters with wide-eyed hippy naifs and the titular Augusta, a woman who didn't so much embrace life as molest it, are as poignant as they are hilarious, with some visually inventive segments and Latin hip-swinging choreography by Kally Lloyd-Jones. It's far away from the tourist trail, into an uncertain, dangerous terrain, and all the richer for it.

 
 


 
 

Ian Redford, Joshua Richards, Ewan Somers. Photo © Pete Le May  
 

 Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ian Redford, Ewan Somers, Joshua Richards, Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Joshua Richards, Ian Redford. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ewan Somers. Photo © Pete Le May
 

Ian Redford. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Joshua Richards, Ian Redford. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

 Ewan Somers, Joshua Richards. Photo © Pete Le May
 

Joshua Richards. Photo © Pete Le May
 

Ian Redford. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ewan Somers, Joshua Richards, Ian Redford, Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ewan Somers, Joshua Richards, Ian Redford, Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ian Redford. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ian Redford, Ewan Somers. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Joshua Richards, Ian Redford, Tony Cownie, Ewan Somers. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ian Redford, Joshua Richards. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Tony Cownie. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Joshua Richards, Ewan Somers, Tony Cownie, Ian Redford. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ewan Somers. Photo © Pete Le May 
 

Ian Redford, Ewan Somers, Tony Cownie, Joshua Richards. Photo © Pete Le May 

  


 
 

   
 
 


  
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