Arsenic & Old Lace

by Joseph Kesselring

Performed at Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road
Wednesday 27th - Saturday 30th May 2009

Arsenic Flyer

Creative Team

Director Iain Fraser
Production Manager Mandy Black
Set Design Border Studio
Lighting Designer Robert Fuller
Production Sound Peter Horsfall
Stage Manager Andy Hope

The Cast

Abby Brewster Sheila Somerville
The Rev Dr Harper Graham Bell
Teddy Brewster Ronnie Millar
Officer Brophy Harry Clark
Martha Brewster Val Lennie
Elaine Harper Dion Karagiannopoulou
Mortimer Brewster Will MacIver
Mr Gibbs Gordon Braidwood
Jonathon Brewster Pat Hymers
Dr Einstein Richard Godden
Lieutenant Roony Rob Ricks
Mr Witherspoon Graham Bell

Programme Cover Centre


Mortimer Brewster, a New York theatre critic, has just got engaged to the girl of his dreams and couldn’t be happier. Wishing to share their joy, they return to the Brewster family home where Mortimer’s two elderly aunts and younger brother now live.

Unknown to him, his aunts have a sinister side and his brother, Teddy, thinks himself to be President Roosevelt, digging the Panama Canal in the basement. What’s more, his elder brother has just returned home, with his own plastic surgeon, sporting a new face. When Mortimer makes a disturbing discovery, it leads him into a bizarre adventure which is above and beyond anything he has ever witnessed on the stage. The path to his “happy ending” suddenly becomes anything but clear!

In this hilarious farce, from Joseph Kesselring, murder, mayhem and Boris Karloff mean just a typical night in with the family!


Edinburgh Evening News - Hugo Fluendy (Thursday, 28th May 2009) ****

Arsenic and Old Lace

PLAYWRIGHT Joseph Kesselring won fame for his black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. But it could so easily have joined the rest of his oeuvre to languish in obscurity without the timely advice of a friend who, after reading a draft of the script, persuaded the former school teacher of the play's richly comic potential.

Kesselring had originally conceived of the work as a heavyweight melodrama but wisely taking his friend's insight on board, he changed tack and the play opened as a comedy in New York in 1941 to widespread critical and commercial acclaim. The blackly comic farce, which plots the mishaps of theatre critic Mortimer Brewster presenting his newly betrothed love Elaine to his two elderly aunts at their Brooklyn boarding house, was immortalised in a 1944 Frank Capra film starring Cary Grant.

The laughs in this latest revival from veteran amateur company the Edinburgh People's Theatre at The Churchill Theatre come thick and fast as Mortimer, played with assurance by Will MacIver, begins to uncover the outwardly mild spinsters' ghoulish taste for poisoning their bachelor lodgers.

The two murderous aunts are characterised with beautifully sinister insouciance by Sheila Somerville as Abby Brewster and Valerie Lennie as Martha Brewster, admitting to their nephew that the elderberry wine they serve their singleton guests as an aperitif has some extra ingredients, namely, "arsenic, strychnine and just a pinch of cyanide".

The surreal tension between this theatre-hating, drama critic and his mass murdering but mild-mannered aunts is pricked to laugh-out-loud effect by the madcap antics of Mortimer's eccentric elder brother Teddy, whose bizarre obsession with Theodore Roosevelt is portrayed with obvious relish by Ronnie Millar.

Each time Teddy mounts the stairs he relives Roosevelt's famous assault at the head of his Rough Rider irregulars at the Battle of San Juan Hil. Further convinced that the basement is in fact Panama, his excavations to create locks for the famous canal are opportunistically redeployed by his genteel yet deadly aunts as a handy means of disposing of the gruesome remains of their mounting body count with Teddy believing he is burying yellow fever victims.

The situation is further complicated by the arrival of Mortimer's murderous gangster brother Jonathan, his alcoholic plastic surgeon Dr Einstein and yet another murder victim in tow. Mortimer's increasingly frantic attempts to both alert the bumbling local police to the very real threat his gangster brother poses, avert the threat of his aunts imminent arrest by having them and his eccentric but essentially harmless brother Jonathan committed to the insane asylum, while concealing the ghoulish excesses of his mad family from his unsuspecting fiancée, are naturally thwarted.

Director Iain Fraser paces his competent amateur cast deftly, with the tension building right until the denouement's revelation that our hero Mortimer isn't related by blood to this family of lunatics and can marry his sweetheart with a guilt-free conscience.

A pedigree of successful productions dating back more than 60 years is fitting testament to the quality of drama on offer here.