ARSENIC AND OLD LACE
by Joseph Kesselring.
Salisbury Playhouse To 21 November 2009.
Mon-Wed 7.30pm, Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Thu&Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 19 Nov 2.30pm & 8pm.
BSL Signed 18 Nov 7.30pm.
Post Show Discussion 17 Nov.
Theatre Day 12 Nov 11.30am.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01722 320333.
Review: Mark Courtice 2 November.
Gleeful revival of veteran romp.
There is a good reason why this gory romp from 1940s America still features in the repertoire – it’s very funny, especially when given a gleefully clever production like this one.
The story of two maiden aunts with a cellar full of bodies, and three maladjusted nephews (Teddy’s convinced he’s Roosevelt, Jonathan’s the dead spit of Boris Karloff, and Mortimer’s a theatre critic), during a long autumn night needs to be sped along with the lightest of light touches, and director Philip Wilson achieves this while still making space (his trademark, this) for the actors to do their stuff.
Some accept the invitation with more flair than others. Damien Matthews gives Mortimer a pleasingly acerbic tone while not losing the understandable desperation as bodies keep appearing in the window seat. David Leonard’s Jonathan is clever, as he sketches enough of Karloff to be recognisable, while creating a splendidly funny, off-kilter, menacing character of his own.
As the two old ladies, Marji Campi and Gwyneth Powell avoid the trap of making them murderous and mad, plumping for murderous and matter of fact, an unselfish choice, which means they don’t steal the show. Powell is more secure with this, and with the accent, so has more presence.
Since 1941 attitudes have changed; we still find the business of disposing of awkward corpses funny, but are a bit more squeamish about the mad. The character of Teddy is problematic as (unlike the others) the only funny thing about him is his delusions. Nowadays you grit your teeth and get on with it, as Stuart Fox does here with the strain barely showing.
With sterling work from, especially, Christopher Ryan as Dr Einstein and Roger Alborough as Lieutenant Rooney, everyone in a big cast understands that it’s timing that makes a show like this work. There’s no time to milk the (often great) gags before moving on.
This is helped by Wilson’s pin-sharp direction. Among the signs of class are the fluid use of the space in Mike Britton’s satisfactorily detailed Brooklyn millionaire’s front room, and the unobtrusive but effective physicality.
Abby Brewster: Gwyneth Powell.
Rev. Harper/ Lt. Rooney: Roger Alborough.
Teddy Brewster: Stuart Fox.
Officer Brophy: Daniel Adegboyega.
Officer Klein: Steven Serlin.
Martha Brewster: Marji Campi.
Elaine Harper: Jaimi Barbakoff.
Mortimer Brewster: Damien Matthews.
Gibbs/Witherspoon: James Clarkson.
Jonathan Brewster: David Leonard.
Dr Einstein: Christopher Ryan.
Officer O’Hara: Colm Gormley.
Director: Philip Wilson.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound/Music: Richard Hammarton.