Brandon Thomas’s 1890’s farce ‘Charley’s Aunt’ is revisited by co-directer Maya Oslen

Cast of ‘Charley’s Aunt’. Picture: Supplied

Cast of ‘Charley’s Aunt’. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 30, 2023


Durban theatre-goers can grab their chops and dops at the Westville Theatre Club, where they will see playwright Brandon Thomas’s evergreen classic, “Charley’s Aunt”, come to life.

Opening night is on Thursday, August 31, and the run continues to September 16.

Actors, directors and everyone in between have come together without pay to make this hilarious farce an unmissable night at the theatre.

Set in Oxford, England, during the 1890s, the production sees two frazzled graduates, Charles Wykeham (Devon Grant-Hayes Mackenzie) and Jack Chesney (Tyrone O’Neill), scramble to get a last-minute chaperone for their dates after their millionaire aunt, Donna Lucia (Jill Sysum), from Brazil, cancels at the last minute.

“Charles and Jack are wooing two girls and back in those days in England, you had to have a chaperone present when meeting unmarried ladies, so Jack tries to get his aunt to come through so they can propose to these ladies.

“After getting excited, making all the plans to have their ladies present, Donna says that she can’t make it.

“They start freaking out because the ladies are due any minute, so they conjure up a plan to have their friend Babbs (Chris van Selm), a bubbly but ditsy man, impersonate the aunt,” said co-director Maya Oslen, who also doubles as Kitty Verdun, one of the ladies being wooed.

Once Babbs puts on the old lady wig, chaos and hilarity ensue with Jack’s father and a fortune hunter wooing the bogus aunt for her millions, but things get complicated when the real aunt shows up.

The original play was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, in February 1892.

It then opened in London at the Royalty Theatre on December 21 that year, and quickly transferred to the larger Globe Theatre in January 1893 and also showed on Broadway.

The production broke the historic record for longest-running play worldwide, with 1 466 performances.

Oslen said despite the challenges of having to find four replacements for the characters Jack and Sir Francis since rehearsals started, they are now set and ready to wow audiences on opening night.

“It’s been a roller-coaster. We’ve had a few changes in cast members. People had to drop out ... it’s community theatre so nobody gets paid, it’s all just volunteers who have a passion for theatre and have came together to perform, but that aside, we are now ready for opening night.”

Talking about having the huge task of both co-directing with Sysum, and acting in the production, Oslen said she did it because of her love for the original show.

“I’m a Ukrainian and when I lived in Ukraine, my mom and I would watch the movie ‘Charley’s Aunt’ all the time. It was absolutely hilarious. It’s aimed at anyone at any age. You can bring your 5-year-old child and they will still find it funny.

“It is a family-friendly, well-made, well-written play, with all the nuances that Brandon Thomas had put in to it. I grew up watching it and I always wanted to stage it, and now I have that chance,” she said.

Speaking about why theatre-goers should weather the last days of winter and head to the theatre, she said, “It’s definitely a different night out, not your usual Netflix and chill vibe. It’s a Barnyard style, so audiences can bring their food and drinks, including alcohol, and just have an awesome, wholesome, fun night out.

“It’s been a while since we were able to properly get out. I think the pandemic really put a spanner in the works for us, but now we are trying to get more and more people out of their homes,” she said.

“Charley’s Aunt” will run at the Westville Theatre Club from August 8 to September 16, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 6.30pm, with Sunday matinees from 2pm.

Tickets are R100 a person and R80 for club members, pensioners and students.

To book contact Dorothy O’Neill on 083 776 1754 or email [email protected].