Charley's Aunt

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Charley's Aunt is a farce in three acts written by English actor, playwright and song-writer Brandon Thomas (1856-1914)[1].

The original text

The plot revolves around Lord Fancourt Babberley, an undergraduate whose friends Jack and Charley persuade him to impersonate the latter's aunt. The complications of the plot include the arrival of the real aunt and the attempts of an elderly fortune hunter to woo the bogus aunt.

The first performance took place at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds in February 1892, before it opened in London at the Royalty Theatre on 21 December 1892. Soon transferred to Globe Theatre on 30 January 1893, the production's 1,466 performances eventually broke the then record for longest-running play worldwide.

Equally successful on Broadway and in Paris, the play toured internationally, becoming one of the most successful farces in theatrical history, constantly revived throughout the 20th century.

Translations and adaptations

The play has been translated into many languages, adapted into operas, movies, TV films, and musical plays over the years.

In 1948 Where's Charley?, a musical based on the play opened in New York, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (1910–1969)[2] and book by George Abbott (1887–1995) [3]. It starred Ray Bolger and ran for 792 performances. A film version released in 1952.

(For more details on other international adaptations, see the Wikipedia entry on "Charley's Aunt" at

A recent one act version of the original play, scaled down to just under an hour's playing time, has been published online by Gary Peterson[4].

South African translations and adaptations

Translated into Afrikaans as Piet s'n Tante by Gustav Preller in c. 1907. First published by Paarl drukpers, 1909.

Made into a commercially successful Afrikaans feature film Piet se Tante featuring Al Debbo and Frederick Burgers (1959).

Translated into Afrikaans as Charley se Tante by Robert Mohr in c. 1965.

Performance history in South Africa

1894: An early (possibly the first?) production in South Africa was done by the Hawtrey Comedy Company under Ben and Frank Wheeler management in the Good Hope Theatre, Cape Town.

1895: Performed in South Africa by the Annie Baldwin Company.

1905: Performed early in the year at the Opera House, Cape Town, by Leonard Rayne's company, starring Joseph Ashman.

1907: The Preller Afrikaans translation Piet s'n Tante was first performed in Potchefstroom and Ermelo (1907),

1908: The Preller Afrikaans translation performed at the Opera House, Pretoria, April, on 1908, by the Afrikaans-Hollandse Toneelvereniging to an invited audience including the colonial secretary, General J.C. Smuts. Backdrops painted by Frans Oerder. It would remain a firm favourite in the repertory of the AHTV until 1910, and became immensely popular on tour, including performances in Cape Town.

1909: The Preller Afrikaans translation performed at the Goede Hoop Zaal, Cape Town, by the Paarl branch of the ATV (the Afrikaanse Taalvereniging).

1950: Presented by the Brian Brooke Company at the Hofmeyr Theatre directed by British director Mary Byron with Brian Brooke as "Lord Fancourt Babberley", Laurence Ayris as "Jack Chesney" and Nigel Hawthorne as "Charley Wykeham". Settings by Frank and Doreen Graves, December 1950.

1951: The Brooke production staged by African Theatres at His Majesty's Theatre with some cast changes and taken on tour in Rhodesia during September.

1952: Piet se Tante was presented by JAATS at the Library Theatre, directed by Jan Bruyns, starring Vivian Styger (Willem Moolman), Zanne Cloete, Billy Pretorius, Gys Steyn, Andries Strydom and Alvino Willemse.

1960: Done by Brian Brooke, with Stuart Brown and Lorna Cowell.

1965: The CAPAB production of the Mohr Afrikaans translation Charley se Tante opened at the Hofmeyr Theatre on 20 March, directed by Mohr. Decor and costumes by Pamela Lewis. The cast: Limpie Basson (Jack Chesney), Chris Fourie (Brassett), Ernst Eloff (Charles Wykeham), Jannie Gildenhuys (Lord Fancourt Babberley), Antoinette Terblanche (Kitty Verdun), Marie Pentz (Amy Spettigue), Pieter Bredenkamp (Colonel Sir Frances Chesney, Bart), Bertie van der Merwe (Stephen Spettigue), Tine Balder (Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez), Valerie Shwer (Ela Delahey). It was that year's most popular play with audiences, with 58 performances.

1970: Presented by the Arts Theatre Club at the Guild Theatre, directed by Pietro Nolte.

1973: In March it was presented by PACT in the Breytenbach Theatre and the Alexander Theatre, directed by Frank Shelley. The cast: John Boulter (Colonel Sir Frances Chesney, Bart), Norman Coombes(Stephen Spettigue), Richard Haines (Jack Chesney), Eckard Rabe (Charles Wykeham), James White (Lord Fancourt Babberley), Frank Shelley (Brassett), Shelagh Holliday (Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez), Gillian Garlick (Kitty Verdun), Caroline Cater (Amy Spettigue) and Eleanor Thomas (Ela Delahey). Decor and costumes by Chris van den Berg.

1978: The Mohr Afrikaans translation Charley se Tante was staged by PACOFS at the Observatory Theatre and directed by Marko van der Colff with Johan Malherbe, Pierre van Pletzen, Blaise Koch.

1983: The same PACOFS production of 1978 was staged in the Observatory Theatre.

1983: The Mohr Afrikaans translation Charley se Tante was staged by PACT, directed by Stephan Bouwer, featuring Louis van Niekerk (Kolonel Sir Frances Chesney, Bart), Jacques Loots (Stephen Spettigue), Schalk Schoombie (Jack Chesney), Johan Engelbrecht (Charles Wykeham), David van der Merwe (Lord Fancourt Bebberley), Nico Liebenberg (Brassett), Alida Theron (Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez), Rina Nienaber (Kity Verdun), Ilse Schmidt (Amy Spettigue) and Kelsey Middleton (Ela Delahey). Design by Andrew Botha and lighting by Michael Lovegrove.

October 26 to November 5, 1983: Where's Charley? staged by the Port Elizabeth Gilbert & Sullivan Society at the Savoy Theatre.

1988: A Pieter Toerien production was directed by Rex Garner assisted by Tammy Bonell at the Theatre on the Bay, opening 15 December, starring Tobie Cronjé as Lord Fancourt Babberley, Errol Hart, George Korelin, Bruce Fields, Eleni Cousins, Carol Andrew, John Boulter, Timothy Welsh, Patricia Sanders, Cassandra Holliday. Lighting by Jannie Swanepoel, set designed by Kay Page, costumes co-ordinated by Alison Yates.

1995: Directed by Murray McGibbon, opening 9 December, Natal Playhouse Drama Theatre.


D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [5]: pp. 402, 422

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.203-205, 402,

Brooke 1978. 197, 199.

Helikon, 1(4):93. 1952. (re JAATS production).

Grütter, Wilhelm, CAPAB 25 Years, 1987. Unpublished research. p 38.

Charley se Tante programme, 1965.

PACT theatre programmes, 1973, 1983.

Charley's Aunt programme, 1988.

PACOFS Drama 25 Years, 1963-1988.

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Arts Theatre Club archive held by George Mountjoy.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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