ARSENIC AND OLD LACE
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Review by Caroline Franklin, July 2019
This gloriously-gruesome play by Joseph Kesselring is a favourite with dramatic societies, as having humour mixed with the macabre makes it a surefire recipe for success with audiences.
The story relates the strange goings-on in the Brewster family's Brooklyn home. The permanent residents are Abby and Martha Brewster (Phyllis Bennett and Ruth Tibbetts) and their brother Teddy (enjoyably played by Neil Padgen), who imagines he is Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy keeps busy digging graves in the cellar for 'victims of yellow fever'. In fact, the corpses come from his sisters who, with kind intentions, give lonely old men who visit them a glass of wine laced with "a spot of cyanide".
When Mortimer Brewster (Andrew Smith) discovers a body in the window seat and hears of the sisters' 'charitable' work, he has to decide what to do, in between sorting out his love life with Elaine (Lydia van Walsem Vas Nunes) the local minister's (Mike Brook) daughter.
Chaos ensues when Jonathan Brewster (David Tute) arrives accompanied by a corpse and the man who gives him new faces, Dr Einstein (Mike Huxtable). Mortimer, a drama critic, has left to write a review on his way to a play (not NWN practice) and returns to find the house in turmoil and a policeman-would-be playwright (John Hicks) insisting on discussing his latest script. When Lieutenant Rooney (Sarah Enticknap) arrives order is finally restored and the sisters can continue their 'charitable' work unimpeded.
Obviously, much work had gone into this production and the result was a performance that brought cries of "jolly good" from the audience at the end.
However, on the first night, American accents were obviously difficult for some cast members to maintain, though others did well.
There were several outstanding performances, including those from Smith, Tute, Huxtable and the wonderfully-named van Walsem Vas Nunes, backed up by those in minor roles.
Phyllis Bennett and Ruth Tibbetts deserve much praise, having mammoth roles to learn.
They acted well, though particularly in the first half on the first night, the dialogue could have been slicker. I am sure this would have improved as the performances continued.
Directed by Ann Davidson, this was a good effort from the Newbury Dramatic Society, with a well-chosen play that audiences surely relished.