REVIEW: Travels With My Aunt
A new musical based on the novel by Graham Greene at the Chichester Festival Minerva Studio.
Redoubtable female roles are something of a hallmark of Chichester Festival Theatre.
In the last two years alone, we have been treated to Imelda Staunton as the formidable Mama Rose in Gypsy; Penelope Wilton as the defiant mother in the harrowing Taken at Midnight; and Zoe Wanamaker portraying the tormented poet Stevie Smith.
All performed to huge critical and public acclaim.
But Patricia Hodge opening the 2016 summer season as Aunt Augusta in Travels With My Aunt proves that this seam of awe-inspiring female creations is far from being exhausted.
She brings such warmth, humour and vitality to the role that her performance is nothing short of sensational.
Of course, Aunt Augusta was one of Graham Greene’s great creations and one with which he was particularly pleased.
There are so many layers of complexity to Augusta and so many contradictions to the stereotype that it would be easy for an actress of lesser capability to discard the subtle niceties of the part.
But Ms Hodge delivers it with such a sensitive and assured authority that every nuance is perfectly captured.
This feat is all the more remarkable given this latest version is presented as a musical with fast-past choreography and a lightness of touch which is irresistible.
The whole cast is strong. Steven Pacey gives a sympathetically understated performance as the long-suffering nephew dragged across the globe from one adventure to another by his aunt.
Haley Flaherty retains a wide-eyes naivety as Tooley, the girl his aunt would wish him to love.
But Ms Hodge is supreme - owning the stage as surely as if she had the deeds to the Minerva tucked in her handbag.
Travels With My Aunt marks the start of the final season at the CFT with Jonathan Church and Alan Finch at the helm.
Their contribution to Chichester has been impressive beyond words. If this opener is anything to go by 2016 could prove that they have saved their best season to last.