Just as Chichester Festival Theatre was staging Travels with my Aunt in the Minerva earlier this year, Creative Cow were out on the road with their own version of the Graham Greene classic.
Sufficient theatres missed out on it first time round for the company to decide to take it back out on the road again this autumn, this time playing their first-ever date at Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal (Oct 10, 7.30pm; Oct 11, 7.30pm; Oct 12, 2.30pm; Oct 12, 7.30pm).
Four actors will take on more than 20 characters in a funny and frantic dash around the world with Henry Pulling, a retired suburban bank manager with a penchant for dahlias.
Henry meets his eccentric Aunt Augusta at what he supposes to be his mother’s funeral. She persuades him to abandon his dahlias and travel with her to Brighton, Paris, Istanbul and across the world to Paraguay.
Through Aunt Augusta, a veteran of hotel bedrooms and shady associates, Henry joins a shifty twilight society of pot-smoking hippies, war criminals, men from the CIA and hard-core art smugglers. To his aunt’s great delight, he finds himself coming alive as he puts his former dull and predictable life behind him.
One of the four recreating it all on stage is Katherine Senior.
“Originally we did the show back in 2009 when we were touring much more rurally. We were touring to pub venues and village halls, and it went down very well. We always wanted to produce it on a larger scale. And so we did – and now we are doing it again. Three of us are the same from the spring. Just one has changed. We were very conscious that we didn’t just want to regurgitate it all, but having someone new gives it a fresh energy, with Daniel coming in. We had two weeks to rehearse, and because three of us knew it inside out, it gave us the chance to find new ideas, which was lovely… and we found so many new things coming through.
“First time round, particularly on opening night, you are thinking ‘Oh, we could have done this or that or whatever.’ Bringing someone new in is was great. He brings different characterisations.”
As indeed they all do. They all play Henry Pulling and they all play Aunt Augusta: “We are all in identical three-piece suits and bowler hats, and then just donning a pair of pink glasses, you become Aunt Augusta.
“When we see Henry at first, well, I would not say he is boring, but he is edging on boring. If you make him a colour, he would be grey which is what makes the travel element so exciting. He starts as this very ordinary person. He has just retired from the bank. He has got his pension and he has got his one hobby which is looking after his dahlias. Aunt Augusta crashes into his life and drags him around the world. You see a great arc to his story.
“She has to persuade him, but because of Aunt Augusta’s character, he is forced into a corner. He couldn’t really argue with her. I found Aunt Augusta actually quite hard to like. I am a bit dubious how much she cares for Henry.”
But with four different actors playing Augusta and also playing Henry, there is scope for the different interpretations – which all come together: “We are all different. I am a woman for a start, I bring a woman’s version of Henry. But we all bring different aspects and elements, and to a certain extent that’s what makes it interesting.”
Tickets on www.newtheatreroyal.com
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