In spring 2016 RoughCast brought you one of the funniest and most entertaining farces of all time. Charley’s Aunt centres on two Oxford undergraduates in search of a chaperone for a visit from their girlfriends to whom they hope to propose. Jack and Charley manage to persuade fellow undergraduate Fancourt “Babbs” Babberley to impersonate Charley’s millionairess aunt from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”) in this hilarious tale of young love and preposterous deception.
Charley’s Aunt has been revived and adapted countless times since its nineteenth century premier in Bury St Edmunds, but seemed a bold choice for Roughcast, a theatre group best known for the gravitas of Shakespeare, Ibsen and Miller.
From the play’s opening moments, however, it quickly became apparent that the company intended to relish the challenge of comedy, with Joshua Gould particularly in command of the heightened performance style required for farce. In the titular role, Ben Willmott did well to avoid the long shadows cast by Arthur Askey and Jack Benny, while Sally Wilkinson and Sophie Scannell breathed life into the underwritten girlfriends. It was refreshing to see Roughcast bringing so much younger talent to the stage, albeit buttressed by the reliable work of company stalwarts Peter Long and Paul Baker.
If the pace slowed towards the end, this was largely the fault of the play, not the company, who battled on gamely. Roughcast always shows great respect for text, but some judicious editing of exposition might have worked wonders. That said, the frequent set changes the full text required were brilliantly handled by Alan Burridge’s imaginative production design, perfectly complementing this solid revival of a seminal work.