Gerald Moon's comedy thriller has enjoyed a successful life since its premiere in 1982, with worldwide productions in many languages. It's a tale of rival twins that has been a staple of theatrical fare since classical times. Moon's Farrant twins share only their ruthlessness, for one is suave and successful, the other down on his luck.
Corpse! is written for one actor to play both brothers. In Robin Herford's revival, Mark McGann nimbly and ably fills both the elegant shoes of first-born Rupert, who inherited all, and the shabbier pumps of out-of-work thespian Evelyn, who has a deadly plan for getting his own back - and his brother's share into the bargain.
Evelyn's Machiavellian master plan involves the complicity of crack shot Major Ambrose Powell, whose co-operation is ensured by Evelyn's detailed knowledge of his 'form'. Colin Baker's well observed shifty bluster ensures that he's a far from loveable scoundrel in the role.
Now, of course, if all were to go according to plan, the suspense would fly out of the window as speedily as Evelyn leaving the scene of the crime. Cue Mrs McGee, the amorous landlady mooning after our (anti) hero Evelyn and appearing at all the wrong moments. She's played with spot-on comic precision by Louise Jameson, but the part is underwritten, so sadly she's more plot device than rounded character. David Warwick's well-meaning policeman also plays his unintentional part in Moon's labyrinthine plot.
After a slow start, the pace quickens and the play develops into a dark farce that provides the audience with lots of laughs and lots of fun trying to second guess the machinations of would-be master-criminal Evelyn and the ingenuity of Moon himself.
My greatest accolade goes to designer Elroy Ashmore. His split-level set authentically conjures up the play's 1930s setting and allows the action to switch from Evelyn's shabby Soho basement to Rupert's sumptuous Regent's Park pad with all the considerable comic panache Herford and his cast can muster. Jack Thompson's lighting also effectively plays a vital part in building up the suspense.
The play is set at Christmas time, with contrasting home-made paper chains and expensively elegant decorations in the two abodes. I can see it making a great evening of festive fare in December and meanwhile it should provide a good night out this autumn.
- Judi Herman (reviewed at Northampton's Derngate Theatre, The Royal)