Review / Delicious comedy needs more pace

theatre / “Arsenic and Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring, directed by Jon Elphick. At Belconnen Theatre until September 12. Reviewed by Helen Musa

Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Lynne Seaman and Marian Fitzgerald

Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Lynne Seaman and Marian Fitzgerald.

IN “Arsenic and Old Lace”, American playwright Joseph Kesselring has written a nearly-perfect black farce, replete with sophisticated dialogue and odd characters.

Tempo Theatre’s Jon Elphick has made himself a veteran director of Agatha Christie thrillers for the company, but in tackling the farce genre, he has faced new challenges. Gone are the pregnant pauses and significant looks of the average murder-mystery and in their place are throwaway lines, gags and more than a hint of menace.

Elphick and his energetic cast very nearly pull it off, achieving a high percentage of the laughs scripted by Kesselring and successfully conveying the sense of madness associated with the seemingly respectable household of the Brewster family. I have no doubt that, as the season progresses, the show will get even funnier.

The set, designed by Elphick, worked very effectively to provide a canvas for this deliciously ridiculous comedy to resolve itself, complete with opening and closing doors, windows, cellar and stairs, all needed to keep the plot moving.

But with a mixed cast performing in mixed styles, the pace is not always maintained at an even level. Central to the stage action are the two maiden aunts, Abby and Martha Brewster, played quietly and convincingly by Lynne Seaman and Marian Fitzgerald, but altogether too softly and slowly to keep up with the other characters.

Angela Edwards and Sam Kentish as the two young protagonists provided the right kind of crazy energy to keep things moving and Kentish, who plays New York drama critic Mortimer Brewster, successfully keeps the audience on its toes with a line-up of theatrical in-jokes.

The more ostentatious eccentrics, such as the delusional Teddy Brewster (Elphick himself) and the sinister Dr Einstein (Bill Kolentsis) hit the right tempo with their unabashed caricatures. Kim Wilson acquits himself modestly at the beginning as the Rev Dr Harper but he, too, hits his straps later in the play as the cartoon-like Officer O’Hara.

The director needed to decide which it was to be – realism or over-the-top farce. Surely, the latter was the best way to go.




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