Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 21 (1990)
I believe it was Henry James who wrote that any artistic performance requires 'the perfect presence of mind, unconfused, unhurried by emotion.' The quality of Gabriel Woolf' s performance in ENTER THE AUNTS fulfilled the requirements of Henry James as well as the expectations of the audience, and the artistry touched the heights.
A mind had certainly been present in choosing the programme, which provided a perfect blend of George Eliot and The Others. The bickering aunts from The Mill on the Floss seem to be everyone's favourites. George Eliot no doubt drew on her memories of her own maternal aunts for these contentious characters who have their important place in her artistic scheme. The comic dialogue flows naturally and conveys some necessary matter to our understanding, and Gabriel' s disputing voices add yet another dimension.
Oliver Wendell Holmes' Aunt Tabitha must have learned her manners in the same school as Aunt Glegg, and Saki's little boy in The Lumber Room would, no doubt, have grown into one of those detestable men of whom Aunt Tabitha disapproved. All the humour was skillfully drawn from these and other shorter pieces for our enjoyment. Gabriel Woolf moves with perfect ease from grave to gay and back again, and his varying voices range from old to young of either sex without faltering.
It is hard to choose a highlight from such an excellent programme. The encounter between Aunt Glegg and Bob Jakin is one of my favourites, but, if pressed, I think I must settle on In the Prison from Adam Bede.
The performer's concentration here was so intense that I found myself holding my breath in sympathy, with tears ready to start. It was a truly remarkable interpretation of a superbly written emotional scene, based, as we know, on the actual experience of one of George Eliot's real aunts.