Theatre can be the ultimate make-believe, summoning up a world of people and places from thin air. Giles Havergal’s stage version of Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt - first staged at Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre in 1989 and subsequently seen in the West End where it won the 1993 Olivier Award or Best Entertainment - is a sustained exercise in theatrical conjuring tricks, as four identically clad male actors conjure multiple characters and locations from Southwoood, England to Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Paraguay, among others.
Jonathan Hyde, David Bamber, Iain Mitchell in Travels With My Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager content to mind his dahlias in his country garden, finds himself spirited away on a life of adventure when he meets his long-lost Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral. Colin Falconer’s railway station set, dominated by a departures board that helps identify the various locations he visits, is an evocative place from which to launch these travels, but the joy is in Greene’s even more evocative language, and the constantly playful and polished performances of the four actors.
There are times when each actor plays Henry, though the duty mainly falls to David Bamber, whose middle-aged boyishness and wide ears lend him the right air of being permanently perplexed but irresistibly up for the changes being wrought to his formerly dull life. Jonathan Hyde, meanwhile, is a priceless Aunt Augusta, Iain Mitchell is superb as Augusta’s devoted manservant, lover and drug-runner Wordsworth, and Gregory Gudgeon an endlessly versatile array of other characters.
Director Christopher Luscombe marshals this crack ensemble with consummate and seamless skill, ensuring that there are few dips in the energy from the stage even if mine occasionally did watching it.