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Travels With My Aunt

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Don't be fooled by the stage's resemblance to a railway station waiting room in a particularly sleepy suburban hamlet at the opening of Phillip Breen's new staging of Graham Greene's 1969 novel. As the book's adaptor and former Citz co-artistic director Giles Havergal has proven countless times since it was first seen in the same auditorium almost three decades ago, what follows is the most deceptively subversive dissection of society's mores you're likely to see.

In a post-Brexit climate, where free movement is being curtailed and fought-for liberties stripped away, Greene's tale of how retired bank manager Henry Pulling is enlightened into new life by his free-thinking Aunt Augusta is also a darkly prescient if still frothy affair. With Havergal's ingenious conceit of having the text split between four men in suits, Breen's quartet look here somewhere between a surrealist's convention and a cosplay tribute to vintage children's TV icon Mr Benn.

This allows them to flit between characters and continents in an instant, as a terminally befuddled Henry is led astray into all manner of international intrigues. With the fag end of a sexual revolution hiding in plain sight and mind-expanding experiences on every corner, tending his dahlias is suddenly no longer an option for Henry on a trip that resembles a much belated gap year.

As place names are projected onto the back of the stage resembling a text-based painting by that other great adventurer, Bill Drummond, this delicious concoction is performed by Tony Cownie, Ian Redford, Joshua Richards and a gloriously wordless Ewan Somers with a weight that goes far deeper than it might first appear.

Arriving onstage in a week where the world – or at least the little British part of it – appears to be over-run by pre-enlightenment Henrys, an unavoidable melancholy seems to hang over things. As Henry himself observes once the results of his own wasted youth gradually dawn on him, a world of “ailing people who only know of danger from the newspapers” is in the miserable ascendant. Now, more than ever, we need a legion of Aunt Augustas to shake those people into choosing life once more.

The Herald, May 8th 2017

ends

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