ARSENIC AND OLD LACE
at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
The outrageous plot would not come as a shock to most of this matinée audience. They'd remember the Cary Grant movie, and not just from daytime television, but maybe at the old Odeon in Crouch Street, now derelict and earmarked for demolition.
The tale of the two Brewster sisters, and their bad habit, and their three nephews, still has some definite frissons for playgoers, as well as much desperate farce involving slammed doors and dead bodies.
What lifts Tony Casement's production at the Mercury is a superb set [a hint of the 40s sound stage in Dawn Allsop's beautifully dressed design, elephant's foot and all, with a suggestion of the cemetery stage right] and one of the best repertory companies in the country.
The Aunties were lovingly done by Christine Absalom and Liz Crowther. Their nephews were all impressively portrayed. Tim Treslove was Teddy [Roosevelt], mad as a hatter, charging upstairs and digging Panama down in the cellar. Ignatius Anthony, Frankenstein foreheaded, was the chillingly creepy long lost Jonathan and Boris Karloff lookalike [Karloff created the role on stage, apparently]. And matinée idol Ian Kirkby was the only sane one, a dyspeptic critic, showing a superb sense of the period style – helped by a well-cut suit and perfect physical comedy. His love interest was an impeccably presented Hester Arden.
A large cast also featured mixed doubles from repertory regulars David Tarkenter and Roger Delves-Broughton.
Very enjoyable, if predictable, stuff, with plenty of references to the theatre – Murder Will Out, Pirandello, Strindberg and Duck Soup. And a line to cherish: "Please don't think too harshly of Mortimer because he's a dramatic critic."
I don't do a restaurant blog [no, really, I haven't the time and there's no such thing as a free lunch …] but I should mention that I tried out the new Food @ The Mercury, the built-in eaterie now taken back in-house.
Very impressed with the simple décor, and attentive staff and reasonably priced pre-theatre supper. I had a [very peppery] spinach and nutmeg soup with artisan bread, a tasty salmon steak atop a timbale of smashed new potatoes and baby leaf salad, and a Malteser cheesecake which was as silly and sinful as its name suggests. A nice glass of red, and Earl Grey to finish, all for twenty quid.