Arsenic and Old Lace

Court One, Christchurch

28/06/2008 - 26/07/2008

Production Details

"Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!"

Mortimer Brewster is familiar with the dark side of life – after all, he is a drama critic. But when he learns that his beloved maiden aunts are practicing murderers his Brooklyn household is transformed from genteel eccentricity into full-blown lunacy. This classic (1939) Broadway hit is one of the best madcap, screwball comedies ever.

Abby Brewster            :  Lynda Milligan
Martha Brewster:  Yvonne Martin
Mortimer Brewster:  Jonathan Martin
Elaine Harper:  Claire Dougan
Teddy Brewster:  Tim Bartlett
Jonathan Brewster:  Tom Trevella
Dr Einstein:  Martin Howells
The Rev. Dr Harper / Lieutenant Rooney:  Matt Hudson
Officer Brophy           :  Gary Miller
Officer O'Hara:  Jon Pheloung
Mr Gibbs / Mr Witherspoon:  Bryan Aitken

Set Design:  Tony Geddes
Lighting Design:  Geoff Nunn
Sound Design  Brendan Albrey
Costume Design:  Emily Thomas

Choreographer:  Sandra Rasmussen
Acting Production Manager:  Mandy Perry
Stage Manager:  Anna Dodgshun
Wardrobe Manager:  Pamela Jones
Workshop Supervisor :  Nigel Kerr
Properties:  Helen Beswick, Julian Southgate, Louisa Clark
Operator:  Brendan Albrey
Set Construction:  Nigel Kerr, Maurice Kidd, Richard van den Berg, Richard Daem, Paul McCaffrey
Costume Construction:  Pamela Jones, Emily Thomas, Bronwyn Corbet, Beryl Hampson, Kate Watts  

2 hrs 40 mins, incl. interval

Pure poison, pure farce

Review by Faith Oxenbridge 14th Jul 2008

The Court’s production of Joseph Kesselring’s classic farce Arsenic and Old Lace is a delight. Farce, and the blacker the better, is what director Ross Gumbley does best, and he’s chosen well with this comedy and its satisfying blend of sweet and sour. Although Arsenic and Old Lace has its roots tangled deeply in the screwball comedy tradition of door-slamming and mistaken identities, it’s also well skewered with irreverence and mockery.

It’s the story of two elderly and devout sisters who, as well as supplying Brooklyn’s ailing and needy with beef broth and quince jam, are plying their lonely elderly lodgers with homemade elderberry wine laced with arsenic and cyanide. The men are then buried in the basement by their deranged nephew Teddy – who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, that the graves he digs are the Panama Canal and that the dead are victims of yellow fever – and given a full Christian funeral. [More]


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Arsenic, old lace and plenty of laughs

Review by Alan Scott 30th Jun 2008

I reviewed this play six years ago and found it funny. I found it even funnier last night. This says a lot for a nearly 70-year-old play which, stylistically and thematically, is clearly a work of its own day.

Its title conjures up amateur theatre revivals, old black and white films and worn library books and it has a script which expects you to find the antics of lunatics and the machinations of psychopaths amusing. And guess what? The Court’s 2008 audience did find that, and a whole lot more, in this thoroughly enjoyable and high-quality production. [More


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To cheer a winter evening

Review by Lindsay Clark 30th Jun 2008

Like apple pie and favourite old-time tunes, some plays are simply too good to be left behind. As a sort of comfort food for theatre goers they bring reminders of what now seem more innocent times when there were still manners to make comedy of. So it is with Arsenic and Old Lace, a delirious romp through the secrets and preoccupations of an old established Brooklyn family, allowing pot shots en route at all manner of institutions and social expectations.

At first it seems we are in for simple family doings. The local clergyman is taking tea with his neighbours, the charming elderly spinsters who live in the grand old house appropriately positioned next to the cemetery. Their three nephews however, one by one introduce complicating factors.  Plans for the future of Teddy, who is under the permanent delusion that he is President Roosevelt must be made; the budding romance of their adored Mortimer, a theatre critic, is to be encouraged; the sudden reappearance of Jonathan, the black sheep of the brood, somehow dealt with. Only before ends can be tied up, the sisters’ determinedly charitable way of dealing with lonely elderly men introduces wave after wave of deftly managed farce whose sheer inventiveness whisks the play along at a reckless pace.

The audience on opening night would mostly have come with some understanding of the implications of the title, but the production marks fresh discoveries by Ross Gumbley and his team, who make this wonderfully constructed screwball comedy their own, without losing sight of its original period claddings. (The play opened to immediate success in New York in 1941,before a London hit season from 1942 to 1946.) Split second timing and shrewdly judged characters earn the audience response in 2008. Cold everyday reason seems most unattractive as an alternative to this delectable madness.

Leading the charge are the quintessential maiden aunts, Abby and Martha Brewster memorably embodied and with delicate gusto by Lynda Milligan and Yvonne Martin respectively. Their genteel brewing and dispensing is carried out with delicious collusion and righteousness.

They provide an effective foil for the drama critic nephew Mortimer, played by Jonathan Martin, whose angular frame skitters about the stage with the desperate energy of someone trying to save one impossible situation after another.

Tim Bartlett is a favourite with the audience, as the batty, stentorian Teddy and in sinister mode, Tom Trevella delivers a powerful Boris Karloff look-alike in the criminally insane Jonathan. His sidekick on the run, the supposed ‘Dr Einstein’, is neatly supplied by Martin Howells.

The same detail and efficiency apply indeed to the whole cast, with the possible niggle that accents are here and there inconsistent or under-relished perhaps.  

In the design area too the production is well served, especially in the generous set from Tony Geddes, which manages to imply a rambling second storey as well as the significant   presence of Church, city and cemetery. The colourful world of farce is supported by appropriate lighting (Geoff Nunn), costume (Emily Thomas), sound (Brendan Albrey) and choreography (Sandra Rasmussen).

As programming to cheer a winter evening, the sheer fabrication and affectionate comedy of this production will be hard to beat.


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