REVIEW: Arsenic and Old Lace (guest starring: a fire alarm!)

Sayana enjoyed Arsenic and Old Lace, an experience not in the least dampened by the sudden non-theatrical drama in the middle of proceedings

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Adopting a classic approach to the piece, the cast brought the old-fashioned sitting room and 1940s-era drama to life, whilst maintaining a genuinely authentic feel.

Rebecca Cusack and Jasmin Rees did a wonderful job of consistently carrying the play as the almost ever-present, dithering, old sweetheart hosts – though in true Brewster family fashion their sweetness had a rotten dark side. For two University-aged women, their performances as two ancient Bostonian spinsters, Abby and Martha, were convincing and amusing.

Mortimer Brewster made quite an entrance, played by Aurélien Guéroult as a highly energised, conflicted critic. Whilst the performance was a little overzealous to begin with, Aurélien soon settled more naturally into the role, entertaining the audience with interesting sounds and expressions, especially and surprisingly whilst gagged and bound in one scene.

Jasmin Rees, Jerome Burelbach and Rebecca Cusack. (Photo Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

Colin Rothwell regularly added a burst of bizarre energy and noise to the scene as the delusional (yet harmless in comparison to the rest of his relations) Teddy Brewster – or, as he would prefer to be called, Teddy Roosevelt. Meanwhile, Gabrielle McGuinness brought a breath of flirtatious sanity onto the set in the form of Mortimer’s sweetheart Elaine Harper, a surprisingly passionate vicar’s daughter.

Jerome Burelbach and Henry Wilkinson made quite the disturbing pair as the psychotic, murderous Jonathan Brewster and Dr Einstein (not the Einstein that first comes to mind, trust me). Jerome has obviously been practicing his crazy face from the look in his eyes, and Henry’s creepy accent provided a fun comedic effect. Finally, a shout out to all those cast members acting cops, dead bodies and the like for contributing to the dynamic drama. Despite a few opening night stutters, everyone seemed committed and stood out individually in their acting.

Arsenic wine? Better than Sainsbury’s House. (Photo Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

The darkly amusing, twisted plot of Arsenic and Old Lace was set against an appropriately detailed backdrop of quaint furniture, knickknacks and (unsurprisingly) some old lace and arsenic-tainted wine. In addition to the set, special attention was rightly paid to the dress and makeup of the characters, which did wonders to accentuate the drastic age differences. Jerome’s face, in particular, was made into a reasonably convincing plastic surgery gone wrong. Also, given the Corpus Playroom’s unusual structure, the director had obviously made efforts to ensure that the actors’ positions allowed for exposure and entertainment for both sides of the audience.

Rebecca Cusack and Aurélien Guéroult. (Photo Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

A very memorable moment indeed, though, was when a loud alarm began to ring about halfway through the play. Everyone realised that it was an actual fire alarm only when Henry announced this (in character) – begrudgingly, we began to exit. However, rather than resulting in a show-stopping fiasco, the unexpected outpouring of cast and audience alike into the street was actually pretty memorable and entertaining.

As we waited outside in this unplanned interval, the thesps rallied and began improvising on the street and chatting, mostly in character, with the audience (I even got an in-character compliment on my coat). If anything, the fire alarm and all the subsequent fire jokes by the cast, on the street and in the second half, made Arsenic and Old Lace’s opening night, even more, memorable.

The show must go on – a rarely tested adage, but one impressively fulfilled last night.

Overall, an enjoyable performance that will appeal to anyone who appreciates some darkly murderous humour and a vintage backdrop.

4.5/5 stars

You can see more of Johannes’ photos here.