Natural Causes

Date 27th September 2018
Society Leighton Buzzard Drama Group
Venue Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre
Type of Production Farce
Director Carl Russell

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

I had never seen or even heard of 'Natural Causes' before but was immediately intrigued when I discovered it was by Eric Chappell, the playwright behind the popular 70’s TV series Rising Damp. The plot of this farce is certainly way into zany, black comedy territory, about a woman, Celia Bryce who is wishing to commit suicide, whilst her husband, Walter who is cheating on her with his secretary, Angie calls in Vincent from Exodus, a euthanasia organisation to help dispatch Celia. In true farce tradition Vincent mistakenly assumes it’s Walter who wishes to die and very nearly poisons him within the first ten minutes. Added to the confusion is Withers, who works for the Samaritans, and is hell bent on preventing any such suicide. By the end of this very funny play everybody has both picked up the wrong end of the stick with just about everybody else and had a close brush with death.

The set, by Stage Manager and Producer Mike Ward with Colin Delamore was something to behold. A lavish full box set of a living room complete with bookcases, rich red painted walls and dado rail, a fireplace with lighting that gave the impression of a lit fire throughout and French windows leading out into a garden, very well painted with shrubby and floral beds by Archie Gemmill, who was also responsible for the posters and programme. Thanks to rising costs of hiring theatres these days drama groups have had to become masters of off-site builds and limited get in times and this was a prime example of what can be achieved if you get it right. I must mention the wonderful pot plant that was gradually poisoned to death throughout the show, to be eventually replaced by an umbrella stand. It was a farce so who cares, but one did have to ignore the dichotomy of a rip-roaring open fire and French windows permanently open throughout looking out on to a garden in full summer bloom – I will put that down to the four seasons in one day English weather!

Lighting by Dave Miles and Tom Davis (who also did the sound) was an appropriate wash which fully enhanced the box set. The fireplace lighting was particularly good, especially with the little pyrotechnics (designed by Dave Miles) which happened every time a poisoned tissue was thrown into it, the slight delay added perfect timing to extract maximum comic effect. Nice job guys!

Possibly encouraged by his NODA Award winning God’s Official, Director Carl Russell has once again come up with something off the beaten track that works well. Apparently, a script found amongst a job lot from a second-hand bookshop. A lucky find indeed. Farces, especially, rely on pace for comedic effect and under Russell’s expert direction this certainly fizzed along, as his well-rehearsed cast drew every last ounce out of the script. If I have any complaints it was that sometimes they threw in the second punchline too early which was then lost in the audience laughter from the first.

Russell Bennett was excellent value as the down trodden slightly gullible but opportunist, failing writer Walter Bryce delivering lines with sarcastic perfection which drew frequent belly laughs from the audience.

Tony White as the slightly roguish Vincent, had a wonderful almost machine gun but masterly paced delivery, that cleverly nailed the script. You could easily extract comedy from this part as dour and macabre but White’s approach was light of touch as if he was an over confident doorstep salesman from a bygone era, aka 1970’s. This was made all the more sinister by meticulously cleaning his fingerprints from any glasses into which he had dropped the poison. Brilliant!

Caroline Page as Walter’s wife Celia was melodrama personified. Hard to believe that a woman who was so depressed and hell bent on suicide could be so upbeat and cheerful as a character, but that’s exactly how it worked, and oh so well, her comic timing sublime. A combination of good acting and great interpretation of this bizarrely comic script. Particularly loved the ‘melodramatic hand to the head’ gesture.

Trish Turner as Walter’s secretary, Angie had the job as the only straight guy in the play as the scheming other woman, the glue needed for any comedy. The lack of chemistry between this unlikely duo of a young attractive secretary and an over the hill writer perfectly emphasised her power behind the plot.

Ben Clarke as the over optimistic Samaritan, Withers had comic timing in abundance and kept reminding me of the late great Ric Mayall with his style of delivery, especially with the his ‘Damn’ every time he unwittingly said his own name, reminiscent of Mayall’s ‘Woof’ as Flashheart in Blackadder. Perfectly balanced just on the right side of OTT.

At the end of the day this was a thoroughly entertaining, good old-fashioned, black comedy, well directed and well executed and loved by the audience. One possible trick missed however (possibly by the playwright), Celia stating she would wait for the Cuckoo’s call before committing suicide, which finally came after Vincent died. Thought it would have been an even funnier ending if the Cuckoo had come momentary before. Just an idea..?

Once again thank you to LBDG and in particular, Deryn Rhodes for your usual very welcoming hospitality. Always a pleasure!