ARSENIC AND OLD LACE

Directed by Jane Philbrick for Fish Hoek Dramatic Society

Masque Theatre Muizenberg until 13 May

Bookings: 021 788 1898

 

Lieske Bester reviews.

 

This director is known for her excellent set designs and the home of the Brewster sisters is authentic and detailed, enhanced by meticulous lighting effects and convincing costumes.  The pace was a little slow on opening night but will have improved in the run.

 

The large cast of 13 (a co-incidence may occur to you after the curtain call) does uniformly well considering that there are many cameos.  Some of the characters only make their distinct mark towards the end of the play: Sven Yaffe as the swaggering Lt Rooney and Nigel Stevenson as the kindly Mr Witherspoon .

 

The central roles of Abby and Martha Brewster are beautifully taken by Sandy Gee and Helen Mathers, with never a false note in their portrayal of two sweet spinsters, who operate a private charity – aided by Teddy, their humorously deluded brother (Paul Herrmann).

 

Arsenic and Old Lace is now showing at the Masque Theatre in MuizenbergAlastair Duff is unrecognizable as the sinister Jonathon, the older of the two nephews, comically paired with his private and shady plastic surgeon Dr Einstein (Aubrey Hindle). 

 

Christie Bellairs is a charming Elaine Harper, engaged to the younger nephew Mortimer, but does not have an easy time interacting with a decidedly unromantic Gary Green.

 

I had not only forgotten most of the plot and story line of this old timer (will not disclose it for spoiling it for the audience) but realized anew how very funny this gentle black comedy is.  I also liked Felicity Purdon’s programme – an amusing and appropriate reminder of old fashioned typewriters and aging ribbons!

 

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE

deur Joseph Kesselring

Met Gary Green, Paul Harrmann, Sandy Gee, Helen Mathers, Brad Howie, Christie Bellairs, Thomas Bowman, John McConnell, Alastair Duff, Ronnie Carr, Aubrey Hindle, Sven Yaffe en Nigel Stevenson.

Regie: Jane Philbrick.

‘n Aanbieding van die Fish Hoek Dramatic Society in die Masque-teater, Hoofweg, Muizenberg.

Deur Danie Botha; bespreking van die aanbieding op Saterdagmiddag, 4 Mei 2013.

 

Ai, ja,  jaaai!  Sommer gou in die opvoering kom ‘n mens agter hoekom dié toneelstuk so ’n sukses was daar in die jare van die Tweede Wêreldoorlog. In een van die teaters had dit ’n speelvak van 1 444 opvoerings. Die intrige is deeglik en slim bedink; dis so verrassend en vol ongeforseerde humor.

Regisseur Jane Philbrick laat die spelers presies die regte styl handhaaf. Geensins oordrewe en nie met ’n aanslag van kyk-hoe-snaaks-is-ons nie. Die karakters doen die ongewoondste dinge asof dit só normaal, só vanselfsprekend is, en daardeur ontstaan die kwinkslae en die talle onverwagte wendinge.

Ek moet dadelik waarsku dat ek nie ‘n pretbederwer wil wees nie en te veel van die inhoud  gaan weergee nie.

In ’n stralend netjiese huis vang die twee Brewster-susters onheilige dinge aan. Dis nou Abby (Sandy Gee) en Martha (Helen Mathers). Hulle dra graag swart. Hulle dade met kos en drank gee ’n heeltemal nuwe betekenis aan sosiale liefdesdiens. Hulle het hulle reeds ontferm oor talle arme vereensaamde, sukkelende mans. Streng volgens die mans se kerkverband. Die hulpbehoewendes mag nie sommer opdaag in dié huis naby die begraafplaas en die pastorie van ds. Harper (John Mc Connell) en sy dogter Elaine (Christie Bellairs) nie; die barmhartige susters moet hulle nóói. Een, mnr. Gibbs, (Ronnie Carr) ontwyk hulle, maar mnr. Witherspoon (Nigel Stevenson) sal dalk nie so gelukkig wees nie. Hulle kleinneef Teddy (Paul Herrmann) hoort eintlik in mnr. Witherspoon se gestig vir geestesversteurdes. Hy glo hy is president Teddy Roosevelt. Die feit dat hy in ‘n kelderverdieping besig is om “die Panamakanaal” te grawe, is van groot hulp vir die sorgsame susters.

Kort voor lank word sake egter bemoeilik vir die twee. Nefie Mortimer (Gary Green) is ’n streng toneelkritikus en laat hom nogal uit oor die aard van teater en resensies! Hy ontdek egter een na die ander geheim en is geensins van plan om net ‘n onbetrokke toeskouer te wees nie.

Sy broer en dié se redelik gedweë helper kom vererger dinge: Jonathan in ‘n Boris Karloff-inkarnasie (vir my ‘n volkome onherkenbare Alastair Duff) en dr. Einstein (Aubrey Hindle) wat jou gelaat in ‘n japtrap sjirurgies heeltemal kan verander. Dié Jonathan was al in sy jongdae ‘n onplesierige vent wat bv. vir Mortimer geterroriseer het. Dié twee voortvlugtiges kompeteer nou met die tantes wat getal en aard van ontstellende dade betref.

Die tantes word ook geopponeer deur drie heel individualistiese polisiebeamptes: offisier Klein (Brad Howie) wat darem nog redelik aan hulle kant is en ‘n hand bysit met hulle liefdadigheidgeskenke; offisier O’Hara  (Thomas Bowman) wat die onmoontlikste tyd en situasie kies om Mortimer te oortuig van sy ongetwyfelde talent as dramaturg, en dan kapokhaan luitenant Rooney (Sven Yaffe) wat onstuitbaar in sy verpligtinge is.

Ek glo dat Jane Philbrick die rolverdeling knap gedoen het: voorkoms-, stem- en ouderdomsgewys is hulle deur die bank oortuigend. My gas, ‘n ervare toneelmens, had nie vrede met Elaine nie, sou haar meer eroties gedrewe wou sien. Nee, sy dring haar mos tog op aan Mortimer, maar wanneer hy besef  hy durf nie met haar kan trou nie vanweë die geestesongesteldhede wat so na vore kom in sy familie, is dit die ernstige kant van haar wat na vore kom, is sy ontsteld en opstandig. Sy kom ook as predikantsdogter behoudend oor (nie alle predikantskinders is so nie!) sodat die gehoor meegevoel met haar het wanneer Jonathan en dr. Einstein misdaadstatistiek van haar wil maak.

Laasgenoemde twee is sekerlik baie oortuigend. Aubrey Hindle skep ‘n afgeronde karakter met kleiner bewegings en stemwisselings met ‘n onoordrewe Duitse aksent. Alastair Duff skep ‘n paar verrassings van sy eie.

In sy openingstonele het Paul Herrmann so onbeholpe gelyk. Die hulp van Eve Jakins as souffleuse is selfs ingeroep; ‘n mens het die ergste gevrees. Maar kort daarna kry almal toe energie en praat selfs Sandy Gee duideliker. Toe het die opvoering gelóóp! Ons kom  agter wat die probleem met Teddy is, hoe Hermann met sy kleredrag, daardie verpestelike trompet en sy “oorlogsugtigheid” ‘n hele boeiende verbeeldingswerklikheid vir ons skep, as ‘t ware ‘n subdrama. Dis nogal interessant om te lees oor die ware Roosevelt en te sien hoeveel van sy karaktertrekke deur die dramaturg ingewerk is.

Daar is drie spelers wie se karakteriserings veral sorg dat die intrige duidelik voorstu: Sandy Gee en Helen Mathers met hulle sterk verhoogteenwoordigheid, en dan Gary Green wat my sterk beïndruk het. Hy het heerlik verwikkelinge geaksentueer met ’n energiekheid, kragdadigheid en sterk stemwerk. Met hom en ook met ander het Philbrick spanning geskep wat dan sekondes later lagbuie veroorsaak het. Kyk maar net na die gedoentes by die venster.

Die stel is stewig, afgerond en wonderlik kleurryk wanneer die ligte daarop indoof. Die kostumering laat jou nooit wonder of dit nou van pas is of nie. Selfs Teddy is outentiek geklee! Oor die beligting het ek en my gas met sy verhoogbestuurervaring so twee keer gefrons. Die verandering van ligte op die stel (kerse doodblaas; lig aanskakel teen die muur) is nie dadelik goed weergegee deur die teaterbeligting nie. ‘n Mens wil glo dit was iets eenmaligs.

Die Vishoekse toneelvereniging verdien lof vir hierdie toneelvermaak. Dis ’n lekker lang, opregte “storie”.

 

Review as published in the Cape Times 7 May 2013.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE: Comedy/Thriller by Joseph Kesselring.  Directed by Jane

Philbrick.  Presented by Fish Hoek Dramatic Society.  Masque Theatre Thursday to Saturday  until 11 May.  SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.

 

A BOUQUET to Jane Philbrick for her set design.  Bouquets too to Wendy Goddard, Megan Donnelly, Joe Laubscher and Hillary Wiles and uncredited others who constructed it.  The set comprised a charming old fashioned living room, complete with double-storey staircase lined by family portraits, three doors, settee, small round table, writing bureau- topped by a (hardly heard) telephone, sideboard  – complete with ornaments – and a coffin sized window box – strategically placed below a tall, curtain draped, sash window.  All this adding too, rather than detracting from director Philbrick’s movement composition  for her large cast. More bouquets go to Sandy Gee as Abby Brewster and Helen Mathers as her sister Martha.  They made a delightful team. A treat was their indignation that anyone would think they could possibly lie after being “so kind” offering lonely old  men a lethal cocktail of arsenic, strychnine plus a pinch of cyanide in a small glass of their homemade elderberry wine. As well as burying them in accordance to their religious beliefs. Softly spoken Gee together together with bespeckled Mathers fully understood the understated humour in Joseph Kesselring’s writing.  They interacted well, timing their punch lines beautifully. They never played for laughs. Neither did they move out of character as two charitable old dears and caring aunts to mentally challenged Teddy (Paul Herrman), theatre critic Mortimer (Gary Green) and sinister Jonathan (Alastair Duff).  A problem often encountered in Masque productions is opening speeches are inaudible, the first-half pace is slow and the cast take time to “settle in.” In this instance – apart from Gee and Mathers – before interval characterisations seemed unnaturally forced. A case in point was Green. He only came in to his own after the break. Then, taking control of proceedings, he held centre stage in the pivotal role of Mortimer –  the one sane member in this homicidal Brewster family.

 

Duff, his Boris Karloff look-alike brother, played Jonathon as a sinister crook straight from melodrama. For this role Aubrey Hindle backed him as Dr Einstein – an equally crooked but dithering German plastic surgeon. In his small part as Officer O’Hara Thomas Bowman contributed a positive energy lacking in other minor role players.

Kesselring set Arsenic and Old Lace inBrooklyn,New Yorkand  repeatedly made reference to American cities. So Philbrick’s decision not to impose American accents initially caused some confusion.  However, not listening to “put on” accents proved an asset to the unfolding plot.

 

Written in 1939, Kesselring’s amusing references to murder and police inadequacies provided material for many good laughs.

 

Tickets from R55.  To book call 021 788 1898