Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Old lace scrubs up well

Short measure: Abby Brewster (Rebecca Kear) and Martha Brewster (Christine Gough) realise that Mr Gibbs (Malcolm James) is not too keen on trying the wine.

Arsenic and Old Lace

The Hampton Players

Fentham Hall, Hampton-in-Arden


WITHOUT ever threatening to equal the joyous heights of inanity that are attained when Joseph Kesselring's classic comedy is at its best, Maureen George's production is a happy reincarnation.

It is the story of two elderly spinster sisters who show their pity for elderly men – total strangers – by administering them a spot of elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and cyanide. Their lunatic brother Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, then buries them in the cellar because he believes he is digging locks in the Suez Canal.

Inevitably, this is a happy arrangement whose smooth running is disrupted, either by a ne'er-do-well murderous nephew or the universally inept local police force – all to the benefit of any chuckle muscles that happen to be present.

Rebecca Kear and Christine Gough are Abby and Martha Brewster, as charming a lethal pair as you could hope to meet. Martha's American accent is a little suspect sometimes, but theirs is a pleasing pairing as the twin heads of a family in which insanity is justifiably said to practically gallop.

Paul Reece Carrington pitches purposefully into his responsibilities as Teddy, though I occasionally found it difficult to distinguish the words that habitually come multi-decibel and pretty quickly.

David Wootten is outstanding as the sisters' drama critic nephew Mortimer, positive and punchy in his delivery and scoring full marks for the comedy in his various reactions to the shocks that come his way after he has entered his aunts' house in Brooklyn. Sarah Burke, as his fiancée Elaine, also has occasional cause to register resounding alarm and she does it with gusto.


Christian Jones is their other nephew, Jonathan – built large economy size as befits his standing as the alarming and very black sheep of the family. He is teamed with Michael Santos (Dr Einstein) as the unwelcome guests.

It is Dr Einstein who is Jonathan's travelling plastic surgeon, charged with changing the Brewster face sufficiently to keep him one step ahead of the law – though liable to be mistaken for Boris Karloff. His skills do cause certain anxieties: “What will the neighbours think? Coming in with one face and going out with another!” On the first night, their arrival coincided with a drop in the tempo of the production, though this did pick up later.

The play is peopled with risibly useless New York cops and various victims, the necessary adjuncts to its built-in lunacy. Elaine produces a delightful line: “If you think you're getting out of this by pretending you're insane, you're crazy.”

There is a point at which the production would have us believe that the well-lit Brewster living room is in complete darkness. It is disbelief suspension time, but this becomes even more of a challenge when we see someone walk into a piece of furniture that is obvious to everyone except the one with the bruised shins. Considerably less lighting is needed. Not a word to Health and Safety.

But it is, indeed, a happy evening and there are more to come. To 20-11-10.

John Slim 

Wheels of misfortune  Slim on a roll . . . or perhaps not . . .

Box Office: (PayPal accepted) or 01675 442432 and 01676 523285. 

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