When the curtains I opened on the performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Tea Tree Players Theatre last night, the stage was immediately recognisable as being set in the 1930s in Brooklyn, New York. I thought it was a great set, especially the sepia photographs, old 1930s striped wallpaper and little details like old-fashioned light switches and stained-glass windows. Some people might remember the use of theatre organs as essential accompaniment in lieu of speech. The organ music at the beginning of the two main scenes also helped set the tone of the play atmosphere – Sombre with a nice balance of charm and menace.
Abby, played by Heather Riley, and Martha by Theresa (Lilly) Dolman, alternatively dithered and subtly controlled their family and victims. Their costumes also enhanced the characters of shrewd, little old ladies with their grey hair and floral dresses.
The major role of Mortimer, with its roller coaster of emotions, was appropriately emphasized by the intense drama of Kiernan Drost. He had a few famous quotable quotes: “Insanity rules in my family. It practically gallops.”
Adrian Heness enthusiastically played Teddy Brewster, whose madness was that he thought he was US President Teddy Roosevelt.
Clinton Nitschke’s dark portrayal of the brooding and domineering Jonathan was a convincing see-saw between his madness and evil. He glowered just like Boris Karloff!
All the other actors also portrayed their characters with relish and panache. The projection and clarity of their voices was also very good, without the use of microphones.
Despite the extraordinary difficulties presented by illness decimating rehearsals, the actual Opening Night show went forward smoothly. Major credit to the Director, Barry Hill, all actors and the production team.
There is nothing plodding about this performance. The audience was frequently on the edge of their seats with nervous anticipation of what bizarre situation might happen next. Although the theatre was about two thirds full on opening night, they giggled at the comedy and gasped with surprise, all fully engaged and enjoying the performance.
Lighting and sound design by Robert Andrews, Peter Pudney and operation by Zach Brittan was excellent, creating many atmospheric dramatic effects.
Set design and construction by Barry Hill, Samuel Creighton, Russell Ford, Dean Berlemon, Mike Phillips and Theresa Lily Dolman, together with the Scenic Art Design and Artwork by Damon Hill was excellent as I said before.
Beth Venning’s props, were, as usual, totally appropriate to the time setting.
This production is on until the 3rd of September and there are still a few seats left at all performances. So, get along to see it. It’s well worth the trip to Tea Tree Players Theatre to see this terrific black comedy.