WhatsOnStage Logo

Arsenic and Old Lace (Colchester, Mercury Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
WhatsOnStage logo
As comedy thrillers bordering on farce go, Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace is surely the epitome of the genre. It’s been revived in a smart new production by Tony Casement for which designer Dawn Allsopp has created a set crammed with intriguing details and which works wonderfully well for the special effects required by this story of two dear old maiden ladies in late 1930s Brooklyn with a cellar (not to mention the attic) full of grisly secrets.

There’s something not quite normal about the whole of the Brewster family, as we rapidly discover. Miss Martha and Miss Abby have three peculiar nephews for a start. Teddy thinks he’s the late President Teddy Roosevelt. Mortimer works for the local paper and has been shifted sideways to the post of drama critic from that of real estate reporter; he also is in love (well, sort of) with the daughter of the local Episcopalian minister. Jonathan not only looks like Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster, he’s a psychopath.

Add in a plastic surgeon of dubious reputation called Einstein (no relation), a trio of police officers, one of whom is a frustrated playwright, the afore-mentioned minister’s daughter and a lunatic asylum director. Then make sure that your cast keep the action spinning as doors slam or creak open, corpses materialise and the staircase almost becomes a character in its own right. The result is a continuous gale of laughter from a packed audience.

The performances are uniformly good. Ian Kirkby as Mortimer seems to have more than the usual complement of legs and arms – not to mention more joints than the average marionette. Christopher Staines is the seediest of surgeons, and Ignatius Anthony makes Jonathan a credible mass murderer. Christine Absalom and Liz Crowther dither dottily as Abby and Martha and the police trio of Neil Bromley, Tim Freeman and Thomas Richardson is kept more or less in order by David Tarkenter’s acerbic Rooney.


Tagged in this Story