FOUR actors, 25 characters, a story that journeys from London to Istanbul to South America and beyond, and all performed on one stage — Travels With My Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory is one hell of a trip.
Based on the novel by Graham Greene, and adapted by British playwright Giles Havergal, Travels with My Aunt is an anarchic comedy about Henry Pulling who, after reconnecting with his aunt Augusta, makes a life changing discovery — travelling.
The show stars Jonathan Hyde, an Australian born English actor renowned for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, as well as his roles in Hollywood blockbusters including The Mummy, Titanic and Jumanji.
“Aunt Augusta is a woman who’s pretty much done everything. She’s trafficked currency, she’s done deals involving military coups, and she’s been on the game during the war. She’s the groundbreaker, the rebel,” Hyde tells Australian Times.
“Henry is the opposite. Here’s a man who’s 55 who has retired early. He lives in South London and his hobby is growing dahlias. Then along comes Aunt Augusta, and she finds out pretty damn quick that his soil is in serious need of turning over,” he says.
And what better way to mix it up, than to replace the familiar with the foreign.
“Henry’s seldom been out of England, and probably thinks twice about walking the length of the street to the corner store to pick up a pint of milk.
“The first trip is to Istanbul. He then gets home to England, he thinks ‘oh it’s nice being home…oh how nice is it being home…mmm not so sure’,” Hyde says.
“Then he gets a letter from Aunt Augusta saying I’m in South America come quickly. So there’s a part of him that clearly can smell adventure, but is just a bit frightened to open the lid.”
As an Australian, Hyde relates to “that natural curiosity” Henry’s character develops for leaving home and seeing the world.
Hyde was born in Brisbane and moved to London after his birthdate came up in the lottery to fight in Vietnam.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever won anything,” he says.
His fierce opposition to the war was one of the things that prompted him to get a discharge and leave the country. He believes living or venturing abroad is “absolutely crucial” to one’s self-discovery.
“I think it is part of one’s rite of passage. Nowadays the average Australian has changed enormously. It’s no longer the bloke in the singlet and ‘howsit going’ and the beer and ‘ya bastard get outta here’,” Hyde imitates with his best ocker accent.
“There’s now a totally different, much more urban, polyglot, multi-ethnic and multicultural Australian. Like everything, nothing stays still. It’s changed.”
In Travels With My Aunt, Hyde is part of a small cast, who each play multiple roles.
“You have four men in black suits dressed as a retired bank manger, playing everything from Aunt Augusta to the wife of a German General, to a gangster, to a Mafioso, to a chief of police, to a nervous spinster called Miss Keen, to a fourteen year old girl called Yolanda.
“It’s a colossal spread.”
Hyde also has high praise for the director Christopher Luscombe.
“I’d seen some of his work and he’s terrific. He’s ideal for this particular caper. That’s a very major constituent in whether you do a job or not.”
So did performing in this show, inspire Hyde to travel with his own Aunt?
“I never had an aunt who was like that. I had a friend at school, who had an Aunt called Violet Cotton who was very anglophile and I think she travelled. Whenever I met Aunt Violet, I thought if she had been my Aunt I wonder where I might have gone with her.
“All the aunts in my family, although some of them were very jolly, were not the type to travel.”
Travels with My Aunt is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until Saturday 29 June Ring 020 7378 1713 or see Menierchocolatefactory.com.