‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ is a laugh-a-minute comedy / farce by New York born playwright, Joseph Kesselring. Written in 1939 it hit Broadway in 1941 and then the London stage, playing to over a thousand audiences in each venue. Boris Karloff played Jonathon in the American production, with UK comedian and quiz master Nicholas Parsons playing Mortimer in the 1942 London production; this part was later given to Cary Grant for the 1944 film.
This delightful black comedy has no gruesome moments, but the storyline would still be classed as ‘for over 14s’.
The Darlington Theatre Players are presenting this fabulous classic at the Marloo Theatre in Greenmount each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at 7.30 until 25th May. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on 12th and 19th May.
The scene: It is 1941 in the living-room of the Brewster family home in Brooklyn, New York.
The set: is another George Boyd special. The huge amount of work combined with an eye for detail that goes into his sets amazes me. To the side there is a glazed timer front door with lace curtains. A marble step leads down from the entrance to a carpeted living-room. An L-angled staircase overlooking the lounge, leads up to the bedrooms. The large bay window has a tree outside; there are gold curtains and a window box seat.
In most plays a kitchen door would invariably lead into a black abyss, but George always has a room behind the door. Although hardly seen, the kitchen was fitted out with cupboards and shelves of pottery. Another door under the stairs led down to the cellar. The walls are painted with the popular arsenic green colour of the day.
The set building team were mainly George Boyd, Benedict Chau, Ray Egan, Bailey Fellows, Richard Hadler, Michael hart and Luke Miller.
The properties were top quality with a teak bureau, settee, hat rack, dining table and matching chairs. A sideboard with crystal decanters on the top.
Stage managers Belinda Beatty and George Boyd were highly efficient. Continuity aid from Sandra Sando.
The lighting design included electric lights, candles and a moon glow through the windows, in all cases Michael Hart had just right light level and colour temperature. The desk operator was Lachie Kessey. Most atmospheric.
Brendan Tobin sound design included Hitchcock’s theme the ‘Funeral March of a Marionette’. Sound operator Jonathan Masterson.
Descended from Mayflower settlers, Mortimer Brewster (Richard Hadler) leads a good life. He is a drama critic for a major New York newspaper – often writing his reviews before even going to the shows (sounds familiar?). One day a young police officer, Officer Brophy (Billy Darlington) calls in for quick cuppa and a chat with the two old dears.
Elaine Harper (Tracey Morrison) the daughter of a local minister, The Rev. Dr. Harper (Michael Hart) is madly in love with Mortimer. She lives next door to Mortimer’s two sweet, maiden aunts, Abbey (Jacqui Warner) and Martha Brewster (Kerry Goode). Neither passionate Elaine nor semi-interested Mortimer are too sure if they are already, or even should be, engaged to each other.
Mortimer has a brother called Teddy (Ryan Perrin), an absolute nutcase who thinks believes he is Theodore Roosevelt with the responsibility for the world on his shoulders. Abbey and Martha take in male lodgers, who like Mr Gibbs (Raymond Egan) are alone in the world; the two aunts then caringly ‘look after’ these gentlemen, starting with a drop of ‘special’ home-made elderberry wine, before burying them in the cellar.
One night, after twenty years on the run, Mortimer’s long-lost brother Jonathan Brewster (Benedict Chau) a murderous maniac arrives at the house with his partner in crime, a struck off plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein (Harrison MacLennan). They are quickly followed by a local policeman Officer O’Hara (David Seman) who, unaware of the strange company and circumstances, starts to ask Mortimer for advice on writing his novel.
What will happen to this strange bunch of assassins? Can Mortimer shield his aunts and protect his fiancée?
Marjorie DeCaux magicked a fabulous collection of opulent costumes. Docuprint’s programme was designed by Guy Jackson around Geoff Stribley’s graphic cover design. The font and artwork made the overall effect perfect for the era.
Director Brendan Tobin has skilfully given us a VERY well-rehearsed cast, each of whom knew their personalities perfectly. Thankfully, every performer had the same soft American accent. The two delightful aunts, with their calm innocent temperament, contrasted hilariously with the pandemonium of the others. Tracey in her first serious acting role was outstanding. The cast worked as a team, perfect chemistry and a cracking pace. The production was slick and superbly presented with the confused bungling panic that is expected in farces.
Michael was totally unrecognisable being clean shaven – and with shoes on! He played his two parts brilliantly.
Congratulations to every actor in making this play a major success. A rare all-round seamless production.