Charley's Aunt

Whats on Stage ***** 

Set in the year of its first production, 1892 Charley's Aunt is still a regular favourite with its story about a couple of Oxford undergraduates – Jack and Charley – who plan to use the anticipated arrival of Charley's aunt from Brazil as an opportunity to propose to Amy and Kitty. When she is delayed their friend – Lord Fancourt Babberley – hits on the idea to wear a frock and assume her identity.

This production takes us away from the expected, with its minimalist set and occasionally overt playing to the audience. The open stage surrounded with ten lampposts creates the backdrop for this excellent production. The attention to detail in all aspects is a pleasure. For example, the matched costumes that reflect the choreographed symmetry of action and the music that adds to the flow and movement of the play. Probably the best example of this is the scene change between Acts Two and Three, in which all the cast change the set in quick time and still keep the action going.

It is difficult to single out any member of the cast for specific comment as they all work so well together in this ensemble piece. Jonathan Parish as Jack and Mark Smedley's Charley maintain their characters' determination against all the odds to get their girls while adding an air of elegant wry humour. Harvey Robinson as Lord Fancourt is the only other cast member with a single role, albeit much of the play he is in a dress as Charley's aunt – he is appropriately a most unconvincing woman and plays the role without pretence leaving the audience in on the joke throughout.

The other cast members all have multiple roles and many quick changes Katherine Seniorwho plays Donna Lucia and Kitty and Kate Sharp as both Ela and Amy create their different roles to great effect with little more than a change of hat. Lastly there is Matthew Townshendwho plays Brassett the butler, Mr Spettigue and Sir Francis Chesney. These are expertly played with changes of tailcoats and hats; again the differences of personae shines through.

Creative Cow is a talented company with a somewhat different take on this well-known play. It is certainly a production which is well worth seeing if you get the chance.

- by Ian Black


The Stage

Published Thursday 4 April 2013 at 16:09 by Anne Broom

Fizzing like champagne this elegant and entertaining production perfectly captures the period’s style and formality in Brandon Thomas’s well-loved play. Director Amanda Knott focuses on movement with beautifully choreographed, stylised entrances adding an illusion of space, and a set-change carried out at break-neck pace during a breathless garden chase that merits its own applause.

There is fine period detail, a curtained set with boldly chequered stage-cloth, decked out with tall white lamp-stands behind which characters lurk to overhear confidences. With admirable economy, there is much doubling. Matthew Townshend convincingly portrays a knowing and soldierly Brassett, and with rapid costume change, moves with speed from irascible and love-struck Spettigue to urbane Sir Francis Chesney.

With speed, style and expression, Harvey Robinson, as the inimitable Lord Fancourt Babberley, has the makings of an innate farceur. His impeccable timing, energy, lightness of delivery, yet poignant and believable sincerity as he discovers his long-lost sweetheart, is a joy to watch.

Elegant and stylishly costumed in summer white, decorous young ladies in an age of chaperones and perfect etiquette, Katherine Senior doubles as Kitty and as the indomitable Donna Lucia, while Kate Sharp plays Amy Spettigue and pretty Ela Delahay. Setting the scene with confidence, Jonathan Parish (Jack) and Mark Smedley (Charley) establish good rapport and keep up the pace throughout.

Gloriously flamboyant, with little of academia but much of the rough and tumble of 1890’s student life, this is a joyous production of gentle uncomplicated and timeless fun.


Guildford Dragon                                                                                                                           18th April 2013

Charley’s Aunt

Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

The theme of genteel comedy continues at the Yvonne Arnaud this week, with Charley’s Aunt following The Importance of Being Earnest. This lively and fresh production is put on by the Creative Cow theatre company and runs until Saturday.

The story follows young undergraduates Jack and Charley who are both keen to propose to the ladies who have caught their eye. However without a chaperone they have no hope of enticing the ladies to meet with them.

When their prospective chaperone, Charley’s aunt, cancels her visit at the last minute the boys’ hope of a chaperone and proposals seem to have gone, but if they can just persuade their young friend Lord Fancourt Babbersley to don a wig and dress, all might not be lost…

The play was adapted very well for a modern audience. The enthusiasm and energy of the cast kept the audience laughing readily. Although the play was one of the first of its kind, for a modern audience the content in the script alone could have felt a bit dated and overly formulaic. But the company have really given the play a fantastic breath of fresh air.

They were a joy to watch and worked especially well together in the moments of farce and physical comedy. A real highlight was when a scene change was creatively combined with various members of the cast chasing each other across the stage.

The most memorable performances had to be by both of Charley’s aunts! Harvey Robinson was hilarious as Lord Fancourt Babbersley and stole the most laughs of the evening. Katherine Senior had fantastic comic timing as Charley’s real aunt, who rather awkwardly appears mid-deception.

The set design was interesting, instead of being realistic and detailed as you would expect from a comedy of this period, they had a more minimal set which allowed them to really be inventive with the space and their movement and it worked well.

It was an adaptation definitely worth watching, and Creative Cow have proved themselves to be a company who bring a real energy to classic plays. It will be interesting to see what they will plan for us next.                                                                                                          17th April 2013

Creative Cow, a brilliant small company of wonderfully, bouncingly enthusiastic and splendidly entertaining players open this week

 “Please note“, we are asked ,“the cigar used in the play is an electric cigar.”

Indeed more than the cigar we saw was not what we thought we saw.

Who are these girls, these women? Where is Lord Babbberly off to and has he any notion of where Brazil is? Who actually possesses the three bottles of champagne? Is the wearing of a pretty white dress any guarantee of female identity?

This small company of players doubles and trebles their roles which should perhaps confuse the audience but in the event, and for our hilarity, baffles the characters. This is as it should be in this particular play, it is a farce.

Tall slim white glowing lamp-posts frame the action and create screen-scenes behind which only actors believe they can conceal themselves. This farce has raced around Europe and America for a hundred years and is still fit as Mo Farrah and as winning.

Last night at the Yvonne Arnaud the pace of the production was as skilful as the best of French farce: lovers chasing around the garden, older men (who are they? Is it Brassett? or Sir Francis? or old Spettigue?) dancing, singing, flirting; lovely and charming girls make assignations with Oxford undergraduates. Six actors play the ten parts with all the bounce and energy that rivets our gaze and attention when love is in the air.

I pose the above questions because the Creative Cow company provides a wonderfully entertaining evening, the house was full and applause showed that we had laughed and revelled in the plot and plotting and misconceptions as enthusiastically as the cast.

For a warm, communal and thoroughly good theatrical experience, “Go to Guildford“. This is advice I have rendered before and expect to give again because the Yvonne Arnaud theatre has a record of presenting a programme of interest and entertainment. In this case, the Creative Cows arrive as breathless and eager as spectators; they want, and fully deserve, support.

Go to Guildford and share the joy of last evening’s adoring spectators. Go before the end of the week. If you really can’t then make contact to find where they next take their non-stop-one-hundred-per-cent fun, elsewhere, and chase after them.



May 10, 2013

ARTSBEAT REVIEW: Sensational symmetry takes centre stage in Creative Cow’s minimalist production of the genteel comedy Charley’s Aunt.

Excellent attention to detail with the set, costumes and choreography has resulted in an elegant and stylish, yet fast-paced and contemporary version of the much-loved farce.

Director Amanda Knott has focused on movement and surrounded the stage with ten lampposts to create a backdrop that enables her to be more inventive with the positioning of the cast as they race around the set at breakneck speed.

There was applause from the audience, at the Pomegranate Theatre, in Chesterfield, at the end of act two during which the cast engineer a swift set change while keeping the action going. It was breathtaking.

Set in 1892 Brandon Thomas’ Charley’s Aunt is a story about a couple of posh Oxford undergraduates – Jack and Charley – who plan to use the arrival of the aunt from Brazil as an opportunity to propose to their loved ones Amy and Kitty.

When she cancels at the last minute they persuade their friend Lord Fancourt Babbersley (Babbs) to don a frock and do the honours.

Madness ensues when the real aunt actually arrives. There’s no need to say any more.

The energy and enthusiasm of the cast was admirable and all six performed together like clockwork.  Jonathan Parish as Jack and Mark Smedley as Charley were great central cogs holding it all together and Harvey Robinson as the posh bloke in a frock inevitably had all the best laughs but he deserved them as his timing was impeccable.

Katherine Senior, who doubles as Kitty and the real aunt Donna Lucia, won the audience over with her exquisite expressions and Kate Sharp, as both Ela and Amy, personified the genteel aspect of the play.

But hats off (or should that be hats off and on and off again) to Matthew Townshend, who played love-struck Spettigue, Brassett, the butler, and Jack’s father Sir Francis Chesney, as he was completely convincing as all three.

The rapid costume changes he delivered as he bounced from one side of the stage to the other had us spinning our heads faster than if we were at a Wimbledon final.

This is definitely an adaptation of the classic worth watching and if this is the sort of energy Creative Cow brings to a production I shall look forward to seeing them again.

The play is on at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, until May 11. Go to for more details about tickets.

It can also be seen at Buxton Opera House on May 31.

UK Theatre Network

Charley’s Aunt at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood                                                                                             JUN 5th

In its heyday, Brandon Thomas’s comedy was a great success, running for a record-breaking 1,466 performances across four years in London’s West End.

But that was nearly 120 years ago. Nowadays it’s not so much a period piece as a jolly jape as two Oxford undergraduates get into all sorts of bother just because they need a chaperone for lunch with their intended young ladies. Oh, that manners and etiquette were only half way towards that these days…

When an expected aunt doesn’t turn up, Jack and Charley call upon one of their friends to dress up as the aunt – but such is the farcical nature of this production that no less than two men fall for her/his charms, despite ‘the aunt’ having a five o’clock shadow and showing trousers and men’s shoes below his skirts.

But the small and hardworking cast embrace the play with aplomb and enthusiasm, especially Matthew Townshend who steals the show, first as the limping, tremulous manservant Bassett; then as the respective and controlling uncle and guardian of the two girls and, finally, as Jack’s kindly father. How he manages to look and sound completely different on each occasion is a real tour de force.

 It’s a stylised and mostly stylish production, but on this occasion nothing more than a frothy bit of nonsense.

Belting along with wit and verve, this timely revival of the old Brandon Thomas favourite Charley’s Aunt is just the tonic that theatre-goers need during a cold, miserable summer.

Mixing this curious cocktail - one large measure of period drama, a dash of genteel comedy of manners finished off with a big splash of knockabout farce - is a fine art. Creative Cow Theatre Company clearly know how to serve it to perfection...

Using a simple but effective set this production staged in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre whisks us back to late 19th century Oxford where we find wealthy lovestruck undergraduates Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham scheming to woo the girls of their dreams.

A luncheon party seems a cracking idea but is unthinkable without a chaperone. News that Charley’s long lost aunt is arriving from Brazil (“Where the nuts come from”)  seems to solve their problem. But disaster strikes when the Aunt delays her travel plans. The desperate pair persuade reluctant fellow student, Lord Fancourt Babberly - Babbs to his friends - to don a dress and wig and act as a stand-in.

A superb cast featuring Harvey Robinson as Babbs, Jonathan Parish as Jack and Mark Smedley as Charley make joyous work of the ensuing chaos. Meanwhile Katherine Senior and Kate Sharp are hilarious as Kitty and Amy, the innocent young ladies they have designs on. Both actresses double up with other roles. Senior as the real Aunt is haughtily imperious and astonished to discover that a cigar-smoking imposter has borrowed her identity.  While Sharp plays Ela Delahay, a one-time sweetheart of Fancourt Babberly, as disarmingly puzzled to find herself strangely attracted to Charley’s distinctly masculine bogus aunt.

Adding to the wonderful mixture of confusion and coincidence are Jack’s father Sir Francis Chesney and Amy’s guardian the loathsome Mr Spettigue. Before long both men - played by Matthew Townshend - are vying for the attentions of Babbs believing him to be an exotic millionaire widow. Townshend does a fine job switching seamlessly between roles using body language and slight changes of costume to great affect. He also appears as the student’s long-suffering but wiley man-servant Brassett.

Director Amanda Knott has done a fine job distilling the timeless physical comedy of this boisterous romp into a light-hearted drama that speaks fluently to a 21st century audience.

Creative Cow’s production of Charley’s Aunt completes its two day run at Lighthouse, Poole with two performances today (Thursday May 16) a 2.30pm matinee and and 8.00pm performance this evening. Book now by calling 0844 406 8666 or

Posted on: May 16, 2013
By: Jeremy Miles