Charley’s Aunt ~The Story
The play Charley’s Aunt debuted in 1892. It is a great mix of comedy, romance, mistaken identities, and simply hilarious dialogue that has lost none of its power to tickle an audience’s funny bone.
The set-up involves two upper-class, but impecunious, students at Oxford: the enthusiastic, over-excitable Jack Chesney and the even more enthusiastic, hyper-excitable Charles Wykeham Both are swooning with love. But how to find an opportunity to declare their feelings to the objects of their affection, consistent with late-Victorian proprieties?
The opportunity arrives in the form of a projected visit from the eponymous aunt: she can fill the required chaperone role. But wait: she telegraphs that she will be delayed, so what to do since the girls are about to arrive? The two swains dragoon a friend, Lord Fancourt Babberly , into donning a dress and wig to impersonate the aunt, Donna Lucia, a wealthy widow from Brazil (“Where the nuts come from,” in the play’s most famous line). Babbs, as he is known to his friends, must then navigate both the demands of an impromptu drag performance and burgeoning plot complications.
Enter the girls: Kitty Verdun in love with Jack; Amy Spettigue, in love with Charley; and, in the second act, Ela Delahay, in love with Babbs. They are bubbly, giddy, and filled to the brim with girlish glee.
Then, just as the boys’ ruse seems to be making progress, the real Donna Lucia appears. The warmly wise Donna Lucia quickly decides to play along, and her efforts are key to ensuring a happy ending for everyone in this timeless story about the unpredictability of love.
Playwright Thomas was a renowned character actor in his day, and he created some juicy character roles in Charley’s Aunt. There’s Jack’s hearty father, Sir Francis , who isn’t about to let a little thing like financial disaster diminish his cheerful mien. There’s the disagreeable, smarmy, gold-digging Stephen Spettigue , who pursues the false Donna Lucia in hopes of a big payday. And perhaps, best of all, there’s Brassett , the boys’ veteran butler, who has seen everything, is surprised at nothing, and whatever the madness around him, keeps calm and carries on.
The stage is set for lots of chases, scenes of mistaken identity, conversations at crossed purposes and wildly improbable coincidences – all important elements for a classic farce. We look forward to bringing Charley’s Aunt to you just as soon as group gatherings are once again permitted.