Auntie and Me, Wyndham's Theatre, London

Grasping nephew leaves the last laugh to the wrinkly brigade

By Paul Taylor
Wednesday 15 January 2003 01:00
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Why don't old folk just do the decent thing and die? Why do they malinger malevolently, preventing you from getting your hands on the money that would solve the pressing problem of your children's university fees – not to mention the galloping alimony – and give you that bit of financial slack that, God knows, you damn well deserve?

These unlovely sentiments are harboured, somewhat prematurely and with rather dubious entitlement, by Kemp, the male character in Auntie and Me, a two-hander comedy by the Canadian playwright Morris Panych.

Starring Alan (up Jonathan Creek with an enormous paddle) Davies, the show was a hit on the Fringe at last year's Edinburgh Festival and now transfers for a West End run to Wyndham's Theatre.

Resembling a rather eerie puppet (imagine Pinocchio grown up and now a middle-ranking banker), Davies skilfully plays an emotional nerd of a businessman who leaves his job in the City to visit the estranged dying aunt he hasn't seen since his early adolescence. Premièred here in Anna Mackmin's efficient production, the play is calculatedly split. Davies has the motor-mouth stand-up role: she (played by Margaret Tyzack) has the largely silent, lie-down one. As season follows season and Auntie spoons down pudding after pudding without evincing any sign of expiring, he rabbits on and on about his elaborately dysfunctional childhood.

I laughed out loud several times at this sorry saga. Kemp's father was not only a failed magician, but a manic depressive one to boot. Longing to brush women's hair and romping around in little red velvet shorts, Kemp is very much his mother's boy. But unfortunately she didn't go the whole way and turn him into a fully fledged homosexual: she merely left him sexless.

I also guffawed at various points when Tyzack's Grace hints that she isn't all that she seems. There's a moment when Kemp, bored stiff by the relentless regime, falls asleep and she pads over to get a sheet to cover him. But instead of wrapping it lovingly round him, she unceremoniously dumps it on him, as though he were a bit of furniture.

This is the kind of play that has a Big Surprise in store for you. Myself, I saw it coming a mile off and, rather than calling for a deep reappraisal of what has gone before, it makes a nonsense of it. The play gradually veers towards Beckett, when you want it to plunge towards Hitchcock. Auntie and Me is fun, all right, but completely phoney. I've had, it's true, worse nights out at worthier events.

It is, however, not the greatest compliment you can pay to this piece to say that one would have no qualms about attending it in the company of an elderly relation.

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