Producer Katherine Dore and director Matthew Francis clearly decided the original needed dusting off for a re-run - housed, with a knowing nod to history, at the West End's Strand Theatre, where it had its original London season some 60 years ago - and they've assembled a pretty stellar cast to do the honours.
Onstage proceedings take place in the Brooklyn home of Abby and Martha Brewster, two delightfully batty old spinsters, played here to great effect by Thelma Barlow (Mavis from the TV soap Coronation Street) and the incomparable Marcia Warren, a woman for whom playing bonkers OAPs has become an art form after her award-winning stint last year in Humble Boy.
Abby and Martha's secret, kept from their nephew Mortimer (Drop the Dead Donkey's Stephen Tompkinson), is that they have a penchant for bumping off lonely old men, on whom they take pity, and then burying them in the basement.
This rather macabre premise for a comedy really gets into its swing when the sinister black sheep of the family, Jonathan (a role created on stage and film by Boris Karloff - casting which inspired plenty of script gags - and here played by American Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame), comes to stay, with his plastic surgeon plus a corpse of his own in tow and the police on his tail. What ensues is part slapstick, part dark humour and, though occasionally lacking in pace, never dull.
Warren's performance is the stand-out in the cast as she plies her victims with poison-laced elderberry wine, but Barlow, Richards and Tompkinson all acquit themselves well enough. Rupert Vansittart, too, as the profoundly barmy Teddy Brewster - who believes he's actually Teddy Roosevelt and that the graves he digs for his aunts are the beginnings of the Panama Canal - is excellent, while Paul Rider does a great Peter Lorre impersonation in the role of Doctor Einstein.
At times, the British cast members sound as if they could use more coaching on their American accents, and the play feels a little dated and, with two intervals, a little on the long side. But these gripes aside, Arsenic and Old Lace remains a fun night out. Look for anything more profound and you'll be disappointed, but if you want a good story, some good performances and a fair few belly laughs, it's a safe bet.
- Daniel Routledge