Auntie & Me written by Morris Panych is a comedy about death and loneliness. The play was inspired when the author witnessed a distressed old woman in hospital who had only a few days to live being informed by a care worker that her relatives would not be flying into the country to be with her. The woman shed bounteous tears and the care worker seemed totally inapt at offering her any comfort. It was then that the sickening finality of death hit and the author realised how small acts of kindness can be transformed into endearing acts of love in death’s baneful presence.
This obviously had an unsettling effect upon Panych and he began to look at what the world’s great religions had to say about death and found nothing consoling in their message. In the end he concluded that death is “To sad not to laugh at.” And it is this attitude of “if you don’t laugh, you will weep” that runs throughout the play. And it is this laughing at death in a droll, frivolous, matter-of-fact manner that makes this comedy so deliciously light. The many one-liners about death are so innocently wicked that one can laugh out loud at their outlandishness without the obnoxious odour of disgust.
Kemp (Alan Davis) receives a letter from his aunt, his only surviving relative whom he has only ever seen once before in his life, and so leaves his job at the bank in order to nurse her through her few final days of life. When his aunt refuses to oblige him by failing to shuffle off her mortal frame and snuff it, he utters endless complaints. “Keep eating like that and you will never fit into a coffin”. “Why are you putting on make-up? Why don’t you let the mortician do that?” “If you don’t die soon I think it’s going to kill me”. These one-line gags continue throughout the show and if this were all that the script consisted off one would soon grow weary of it. However, Kemp also talks about his childhood and his ghoulish eccentric parents. His mother wanted a girl and when Kemp was a young child dressed him as one. Kemp’s only disappointment about this experience was that he was not a real girl! His father was a manic-depressive who dug his own grave in the back garden, and his mother was always complaining that her hands were full, which they inevitably where with a glass of whisky and a cigarette.
One needs to pay attention to these little quirky stories that Kemp reveals about his past because obscure references are made to them throughout the play adding to the richness of this comedy. What appears to be nothing more than one-line jokes weave together into a rich tapestry of comic delight. The second act opens with a marvellous comic twist, which I dare not reveal so not to spoil this comedy for you.
Alan Davies, a stand up comedian who is also famous for his television comedy drama ‘Jonathan Greek’, is superb for the part of Kemp, he has a natural morose looking face and his droll sounding voice is perfect for the character. The play is really a series of monologues as Kemp’s bed-ridden aunt hardly speaks more than a few lines throughout the whole play, so the casting of Kemp is essential.
The evening I saw the play Margaret Tyzack who is playing the bemused aunt was indisposed and so the understudy, Zibba Mays, played her character. Mays had a wonderful look of shock, bewilderment and tired resignation, which enhanced Davies’ performance. However, I feel disappointed to have missed Tyzack in the role with her vast acting experience I am sure that her face could express a thousand and one different reactions to Kemp’s endless jibes and maybe then the play would have felt less like a one man show. As it was I still found the evening side-splittingly funny!
This is a comedy not to be missed, especially if you are an Alan Davies fan.
What other critics had to say.....
MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDAN says, "Pathetically meagre." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, " I laughed out loud several times...Auntie and Me is fun, all right, but completely phoney." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Theatrical rubbish...noxious mess." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, " The play doesn’t go deep, but it’s deftly written and ably acted " CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "At best, it is painfully funny and touching. At worst, it is tedious and thoroughly depressing."
External links to full reviews from newspapers