Written by Morris Panych
Directed by Brainne Edge
The King's Arms, Salford
Reviewed 27th July
Review by Brian Gorman
Rating: 4.5 stars
The dark, claustrophobic, and (on the occasion of this summer's evening) sweltering atmosphere of the upstairs theatre, at The King's Arms in Salford, is perfect for this gloriously gothic and peculiar little piece (which runs at around 75 minutes, without an interval). Imagine, if you will, Alan Bennett and Samuel Beckett having a good old evening in, downing the grape juice, and getting off their heads on crack cocaine. Well, maybe that's pushing it, but I'd guess that 'Auntie & Me' is what they'd come up with. Especially if they'd had the cheese, too.
Kemp (Sean Mason) is a sad, pretty pathetic, and morose middle-aged sadsack, who receives a letter from an aged aunt on her last legs, and promptly heads off to see out her last days, and plan for the funeral. Except, she doesn't appear that pleased to see him, and manages to hang on, for what seems to Kemp, like an eternity.
Here we have two actors on stage (Mason, and a suitably grumpy, and almost mute, Siobhan Edge), but 'Auntie And Me' is essentially a one man show. Sean Mason excells in the part of Kemp; a hybrid of Fawlty-era John Cleese, and Allo Allo's Gorden Kaye. He's a dishevelled, somewhat effeminate, well-educated, yet hapless fellow, scarcely able to deal with his own everyday life, nevermind having to look after a bed-ridden relative. With barely a flicker of response from Auntie, Kemp rambles on at length, and we eventually begin to sympathise with his sad, lonely existence. It soon becomes apparent, though, that Kemp needs Auntie, as much as she now depends upon him.
Photo: Shay Rowan
This is classic British tv sit-com, reminiscent of the much-loved Steptoe and Son, Rising Damp, and Porridge. Mis-matched characters, seemingly unable to barely tolerate each other, yet harnessed together by fate; with a grudging empathy and respect slowly developing. The youthful Mason has a puppyish demeanor, but expertly portrays the aging Kemp, and his world-weary outlook. The struggles with his 'black dog' of depression, and aching need for love and acceptance are conveyed beautifully. We feel for this guy, and his pain is all too obvious. Edge's granite-faced, almost comatose Auntie, is a perfect foil; her moments of stage business all the more effective following the long periods of sitting in bed, listening to her reluctant carer's woes.
Director Brainne Edge keeps a tight rein on the emotions, and allows the characters space to develop gradually. There are no frills, and they aren't needed, as this is a strongly-written piece which concentrates on character and atmosphere. The amiable, yet impotent Kemp does have his more serious moments, particularly when the inner emotions break through, and Mason explodes in terrifying fashion.
Auntie and Me has two perfectly-controlled performances, and works superbly well. Old-fashioned on the surface, but with depth, pathos, and even a little bit of Orton-esque farce. This production deserves a much wider audience.
Tags: Auntie and Me, Morris Panych, Sean Mason, Siobhan Edge, Brianne Edge, King's Arms, Salford