Review: Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, Colchester Mercury, until 20 October.

It’s yonks since I laughed so much, but then it’s donkey’s years since I last saw Kesselring’s play and this production is not just very funny, it’s hilarious.

What’s so wonderful is the black comedy that kept Britain and America in fits throughout the Second World War has not aged a scrap. It’s still a killer-diller.

Tony Casement’s direction has seized on every aspect of the show and filled it not just with masses of mirth but shocks and surprises built on the brilliant set by Dawn Allsopp. This, combined with slick lighting and spooky music also manages to give the whole thing the nice creepy feel it deserves.

Kesselring never wrote anything else to match this and it’s hardly surprising because there’s not a weak link in the piece.

Full of twists and turns and ladled with wit, it keeps you on the edge of your seat even if you know what’s going to happen and that’s what good theatre is all about.

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How clever to have two nice old ladies cast as serial killers - and we don’t really mind because Abby and Martha Brewster are only bumping-off lonely elderly gents without homes, friends and relations.

Christine Absalom and Liz Crowther have a lovely time as the old dears, lending them just the right amount of nutty naivety and quiet pride in their efficient dispatching work.

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The bodies are buried in the cellar – twelve of them - by their live-in nephew Teddy who thinks he is US military hero and president, Teddy Roosevelt. Tim Treslove has a lot of fun with him.

To complicate matters further another nephew, Jonathan, also given to multiple murder, turns up on the run from the cops. His sidekick, Dr Einstein, has given him a facelift that has left him looking like Boris Karloff. Two lovely performances here from Ignatius Anthony and Christopher Staines.

Thrown into the middle of this is Ian Kirky as the third nephew Mortimer, “the only sane Brewster,” he says ruefully. “Insanity doesn’t just run in our family, it gallops.”

The whole cast of ten weigh in with special touches that bring the play to its laugh-filled clever conclusion. Not to be missed.


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