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Augusta, Alan Franks’s new play, which is at the New End Theatre Hampstead, is that seemingly rare breed nowadays, a quintessentially English play with an international cast. Set in the penthouse apartment of a successful writer of biographies, Augusta explores the relationship between a biographer and his fractured muse. It is an engaging, very witty play with that heady mix of comedy and dark, dark tragedy.
Patrick, whose writing quite literally furnishes his apartment – his plush bathroom courtesy of a book on the Rothschilds, his less-than-plush kitchen a book on Heseltine – has invited two of his ongoing projects to join him for an afternoon of canapés and candid conversation. One, Alfredo, a relatively recent project whose background appears to be a story of banana-republic rags-to-riches, the other, Augusta, an artist with whom Patrick has been professionally involved for over twenty years. The chance meeting between Alfredo and Augusta is not, however, all it seems.
Add to this the belated and unexpected arrival of Augusta’s young musician son Daniel and the stage is set for revelation, recrimination, retribution and, possibly, even respect. Patrick appears to succeed with a personal plan many years in the making.
Jonathan Rigby, an actor who made such an impression on West End audiences as Kenneth Horne in Round the Horne…Revisited, gives an excellently dead-pan delivery of Franks’s droll dialogue. Rigby’s characterization of the somewhat pompous Patrick, a public-school educated wordsmith whose Englishness appears in such stark contrast with the volatile Latinos he invites to his home, is warm and confident in its easy affectation. Glib one-liners trip off Patrick’s tongue as he attempts to calm the troubled water that he himself has conjured.
Patrick’s first guest, the sleazy Alfredo, is played with great gusto by George Savvides. Alfredo’s self-importance, his inexcusable vanity, plays easily into the hands of his biographer. With the arrival of Augusta, however, Alfredo’s true colours as a womanizing philanderer are blazoned for all to see.
Antonia Frering, a Brazilian-born actor who, after many years in Paris, has now returned to Rio de Janeiro to star in a Brazilian soap opera, plays the tortured soul Augusta. Frering adds a physical beauty and emotional frailty to Augusta, whose life experience explains her professional artistic drive. Her motivation is the son she has nurtured through many hard years, the godson of Patrick.
Augusta’s son Daniel is, perhaps, the most sympathetic character in the play. James Palmer’s Daniel is endearing and believable, torn as he is between love for his mother and facing up to certain realities of life. Daniel must now confront a truth he knows will hurt his mother but which, ultimately, confirms his own identity and status. Palmer excels in this difficult role, drawing every nuance from the situation and the dialogue.
Directed by Chrys Salt, and a production by ‘Bare Boards…and a passion’, Augusta is seventy-five minutes of witty, energetic dialogue. On a tiny stage, the cast explore such deep issues that it can only briefly touch on the pain which underlies its premise. It is a play which should best be considered as an introduction to understanding problems endemic in South American politics for the last sixty years. Thought-provoking and witty, with an Englishness all of its own.
© Kevin Quarmby 2008
Originally published on R&V on 12-10-08
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