Charley's Aunt is a three-act farce that, when it premiered in 1892, was so wildly successful that it shattered theater records at the time, becoming the longest-running play with well over a thousand performances in London, a Broadway version, and an international tour.
It concerns two Oxford students, Jack and the eponymous Charley, who are in love with Kitty and Amy, respectively. The two girls happen to be friends (Amy's uncle, Stephen Spettigue, is Kitty's guardian), and plan to leave for Scotland the next morning. The boys, however, want to have a private moment in which to confess their love, but they can't possibly invite the girls to their rooms alone, out of concern for the girls' reputation. They need a chaperone. Luckily, Charley is expecting his aunt Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez: the rich widow of a Brazilian millionaire, who has financed his education but never met him in person.
At the last minute, however, Donna Lucia sends a telegram saying she is delayed on business. The girls are arriving soon and they will have no chaperone. They do, however, have their friend Lord Fancourt Babberly, who just so happens to be in an amateur theatre production playing an old woman...
The play has been adapted to the screen numerous times, most famously as a 1941 film starring Jack Benny as Babberly. Later adapted as The Musical Where's Charley?.
Unexpectedly, the 1975 USSR film "Hello, I'm your aunt" (a loose adaptation bordering on a tele-play) became a hit and remains a fan favorite to this day.
This play provides examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Old Spettigue, to "Donna Lucia."
- Actually, I Am Him: Lucy, the real Donna Lucia, knows that the person calling herself Donna Lucia is an imposter. So naturally she pretends to be "Beverly Smythe," who knew Don Pedro intimately, to amuse herself.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Subverted. Babs' "Donna Lucia" has no manners, cannot make conversation, and is described by several characters as ugly. Mr. Spettigue pursues her anyway, as he's bent on her millions.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Played straight with Jack and Kitty. Played for Laughs with "Donna Lucia" and Mr. Spettigue.
- Bittersweet Ending: Jack and Charley get the girls and Spettigue is left appalled and upset at having been deceived and manipulated.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Jack. No matter how many times he gets Kitty alone, he can't find the courage to tell her the dreaded L-word.
- Also Babs and Colonel Sir Francis. Their romantic plots revolve around their shyness and how it temporarily, at least lost them the women they loved.
- Contrived Coincidence: Lord Fancourt Babberly just so happens to be playing an old woman in his theatre production, and just so happens to have the costume with him just as the girls arrive. And the woman he's in love with just so happened to be adopted by Donna Lucia.
- Cool Old Lady: The real Donna Lucia, though she's hardly old.
- Disguised in Drag: A classic example.
- "Fawlty Towers" Plot: What starts as A Simple Plan to get a chaperone soon becomes more and more elaborate in order to Maintain the Lie.
- Gold Digger: Mr. Spettigue. Jack encourages his father to be one to restore the family fortune, but it's his father's willingness to marry a woman he believes is a penniless widow that wins him her heart and her millions.
- Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: The entire show runs on this trope.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Lord Fancourt (who had been impersonating Charley's aunt so Charley could tell his sweetheart's father that he had a chaperone) tells Donna Lucia (Charley's real aunt) that "in future I resign to Sir Francis Chesney all claims to 'Charley's Aunt.'" Brandon Thomas, who wrote the play, also was the original Sir Francis.
- Maiden Aunt: Jack and Charley assume Donna Lucia is this, and base Babs' portrayal of her on that assumption.
- Nephewism: Mr. Spettigue has a niece, Amy, and a ward, Kitty. And of course, Donna Lucia has a nephew in Charley.
- Parental Marriage Veto: Mr. Spettigue is guardian to both Amy and Kitty, and Kitty in particular cannot receive her fortune if she marries without her guardian's consent.
- One Degree of Separation: Jack is Sir Francis' son, Kitty's suitor, and Charley and Babbs' friend. Charley is Amy's suitor, Dona Lucia's nephew, and Jack and Babbs' friend. Babbs is Jack and Charley's friend, and turns out to be the young man who deliberately lost money to Ela's father playing cards when he was penniless and dying, and who loved and was loved by Ela. Sir Francis (Jack's father) turns out to also be Donna Lucia's old suitor. Donna Lucia is Charley's (real) aunt, and Ela's guardian. Kitty is Sir Spettigue's niece; she and Amy are both under his legal guardianship, and are best friends. Sir Spettique wants to marry Donna Lucia. The only character who isn't related to, or in love with note , at least one of the others is Brassett, Jack's valet.
- Running Gag: Tons. In particular, the line "I'm Charley's aunt from Brazil, where the nuts come from."
- Second Love: Colonel Sir Francis and Lucy. Played With in that they were lovers when they were young
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: Colonel Sir Francis Chesney believes that he must marry "Donna Lucia" in order to secure his son's future, but is turned down. He instead proposes to Lucy, out of love rather than financial gain, and finds that she really is a millionaire.
- Zany Scheme: Getting a fellow college friend to dress in drag to play chaperone.