It’s England in 1969 and four bowler-hatted men in the sharpest of identical suits come on twirling umbrellas. An audition for a comeback of The Avengers? No, one of Graham Greene’s most picaresque novels being brought back to vivid life by a revival of Giles Havergal’s inspired adaptation. Though it first saw the light of day back in 1989, at Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre, it seems to get funnier with every passing year.
Four male actors, with the most expressive of faces and mastery of silly walks, step aboard the Orient Express, moving from Paris to Istanbul and deftly in and out of a score of roles. The most remarkable feature, however, is that they all take turns at playing the narrator and central character, self-effacing retired bank-manager Henry Pulling.
As the waspish septuagenarian, Aunt Augusta, a lady with a scandalous past, Kieran Buckeridge twitches and quavers like Maggie Smith, while Robin Simpson somehow contrives to capture the droll kinship of a CIA agent and his hippy daughter, both called Tooley, as well as for good measure doing a rather good Irish wolfhound.
Chris Hannon has his work cut out as Augusta’s West Indian toyboy, Wordsworth, in addition to the love of her life, the decrepit Mr Visconti, not to mention being a remarkable jack of all trades – taxis drivers, coppers, dodgy South Americans.
And Tony Jayawardena excels in all his hysterical roles not least those of Henry’s largely absent girlfriend who spends her time tatting and chief of police Hakim.
Director Joyce Branagh is to be congratulated on this highly energetic and physical production, which in spite of being achingly funny raises all of the author’s persistent human dilemmas. Greene would no doubt have approved.
Oldham Coliseum, October 9-25
- Graham Greene, adapted by Giles Havergal
- Joyce Branagh
- Oldham Coliseum Theatre
- Kieran Buckeridge, Chris Hannon, Tony Jayawardena, Robin Simpson
- Running time
- 2hrs 30mins