26 January 2017

Raising Martha

The Park Theatre

  by Adam McCormack

This laugh-out-loud black comedy from writer David Spicer is another hit for the Park Theatre.  At times surreal and ultimately frenetic, this is an engaging production that never lapses and benefits from highly talented actors whose feats of coordination and physicality demonstrate British theatre at its best.

The plot revolves around two disaffected brothers, united in their loathing of their long dead mother Martha.  Roger is a failing alcoholic businessman, Gerry a drug-soaked and lovelorn hippy who runs the family “farm” which has been producing frogs for dissection for many years – or least had been.  What are now produced are Cane toads, whose venom is extracted to “spice up” the produce of the 30,000 cannabis plants that Gerry has been cultivating.  The problem is that Gerry has been sampling a little too much of his produce and is constantly visited by 6-foot frogs in lab coats who want to experiment on him.  The dilemma for the brothers comes when an anti-vivisection group decides to dig up Martha and ransom her skeleton in return for the farm releasing the frogs.  The issue is further complicated by the two hapless grave robbers being in the thrall of Martha’s granddaughter, Caro, who is the brains behind the operation – and her motivations are questionable. The fast paced action that develops is critically enhanced by very funny philosophical and existential debate between the characters.  That Spicer has written extensively for radio is clear.  He ensures that our attention never wavers.

The action becomes ever more madcap as Martha’s bones are re-buried and then re-distributed by the local dog population.  Overseeing all of this to give us some narration is the frustrated policeman, Inspector Clout.  He may profess to know what is going on, but his vision is distorted by finally having a real crime to solve – one which he does his best to elevate to the level of terrorism.

Tom Bennett and Joel Fry play the grave robbers perfectly, along the lines of Jasper and Horace from 101 Dalmatians, but with more violence.  Stephen Boxer and Julian Bleach, as the brothers, extract the full yield of humour from the dialogue, while Gwyneth Keyworth is suitably machiavellian as Caro.  Special praise is due for Jeff Rawle’s portrayal of Inspector Clout, which is a perfect study in occupational frustration, with a high degree of gullibility. This is a production that deserves to go further.

Stars: ****

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