Once again but sadly for the last time as he is leaving the post, artistic director of the Chichester Festival Jonathan Church has come up with an enticing programme of new and old, classic and innovative, for the festival season. I never cease to be impressed that every year in a place with an elderly small population with no theatrical traditions Church delivers plays and musicals that often go to the West as Gypsy and Taken at Midnight did .
Yesterday I went to the matinee performance of Travels with my Aunt, a musical adaptation of the Graham Greene novel written in 1969. After attending his mother’s funeral Henry a bank manager whose field of life did not extend far beyond his job and the Dahlias in the garde embarks on an journey with his carefree, free spirited aunt Augusta to Paris, Milan, Istanbul and South America. It is not just a physical journey but an emotional one as through his aunt he comes to savour life and even meet the love of his life. I did wonder how a witty travelogue would adapt to a musical but the creative team of writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe do a great job. It’s an exuberant, fast tempo production that never has you looking at your watch.
Patricia Hodge plays Aunt Augusta. When I first saw years ago as a junior barrister in Rumpole you could appreciate a talented actress. She trained at Lamda, as did Benedict Cumberbatch, which was of interest to me as its chairman Luke Rittner, a friend of my late parents, has done much to promote and progress this acting educational organization. So much so that I was delighted to make a donation to a room in his honour. Patricia Hodge came from a generation that was taught the fundamentals of clear diction. Sadly today one grasps to hear even well known younger actors. She totally got into the part with its mix of eccentricity, brio, outrageousness and humour. It portrays someone who neither sits in moral judgment nor wants to be the object of others’. Stephen Pacey, a classical actor often to be seen in Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson played the perfect stuffy foil as Henry. Haley Flaherty was enchanting as the hippy Tooley who meets up and falls in love with Henry. The ensemble delivered a spirited choreography and a lively and melodic songbook. The set designers faced with numerous and varied locations wisely went for a simple adaptable set which worked well.
As recommended by Daffers I went to Murrays restaurant in the Chichester Harbour Hotel where my guest, a former actress now a chef in a care home, and I ate a delicious meal before going to the theatre. We both remarked how more pleasant the theatre experience was than in London with no rush , a specious theatre with no queues, comfortable seating with good sight lines. We were thoroughly warmed and uplifted by the show too. I’m not against musicals per se nor revivals but it’s always enjoyable to see and appreciate something new. Provided a smaller theatre like the Duke of York or Fortune can be found it looks like Chichester has another West End hit on its hands.