The black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace revolves around Mortimer Brewster, his elderly Aunts with their special elderberry wine recipe, an eccentric brother who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, and another brother – the murderous Jonathan – who reappears after many years’ absence. A true classic made famous by the film of the same name starring Cary Grant.
Set designer John Ellam beautifully recreates the era and despite the rather slow start, the play soon galloped at speed, to the great delight of the audience. The wonderfully dotty Aunts, well played by Lorna Spenser and Geraldine Cousin, appeared so sweet and naïve that I almost wished myself invited for tea. Their innocent logic was frustrating to nephew Mortimer who failed to convince them of the seriousness of their actions.
Jonathan Brewster (Mark Plastow) was suitably scary and the slightly unusual use of music (Dik Thacker) added to the threatening presence of the Boris Karloff look-alike. Jonathan’s fall, after being coshed to the ground by one of the policemen, brought gasps of delight from the audience at how well he accomplished this drama – and not a broken tooth in sight.
On the downside, accents varied greatly and slipped hugely although they are understandably difficult to maintain throughout such a long piece. Trev Clarke as Mortimer Brewster did well but gave the impression that he had watched the movie a few too many times. However his performance during Officer O’Hara’s ‘play’ showed his great capability.
Many characters popped in and out, with special mention to Officer O’Hara (Jimmy Proctor) as the wannabe playwright destined to remain as a cop and pretty Elaine Harper (Karen Brooks) as the Mortimer’s ‘almost’ understanding girlfriend.
Mick Ives should be pleased with his casting and the overall production. The auditorium was buzzing as I left, even after all three acts. Well done Talisman, more like this please!