welcome antidote to the post-Christmas blues; Raising Martha is a satirical gambol through family grievances, devious plots and postmodern clichés. This black comedy by David Spicer centres around the rude awakening of the late and eponymous Martha Duffy. Martha’s exhumed corpse is held to ransom for the closure of the vivisector supplying Duffy frog farm. However, despite her posthumous state, Martha proves more than our activist grave robbers can handle. Cue a pair of estranged Duffy brothers, a scheming daughter and a disillusioned village cop and chaos quickly ensues. In their search for the cadaverous matriarch, our motley crew unearth many more skeletons in this irreverent farce.
The combination of a punchy script and a mismatched group of characters make this a fantastically funny play. Brothers Roger and Gerry make the ultimate odd couple as the be-suited businessman and guitar strumming hippy. Julian Bleach’s Roger is sneery and despotic, whilst Gerry played by Stephen Boxer sedately contemplates the logic of male nipples. This meditative state being largely facilitated by Gerry’s own breed of ‘tomato plant’ topped up with secretions from his pet Cane Toad. The absurd high jinks and sage witticisms are kept at a steady and potent pace by Michael Fentiman’s instinctive direction, raising plenty of belly laughs.
An especially artful character is Inspector Clout, the fame hungry village cop played by Jeff Rawle. Rather like Columbo (complete with crumpled mac) his apparent naivety belies a truly cunning mind. His freeze frame asides to the audience also work cinematically to pull all the meandering threads together. Unusual for a comedy, Spicer’s play raises highly valid points about animal welfare and vivisection, but deftly avoids becoming an ineffective polemic. This is largely due to the hyperbolic preachings of Jago played by Joel Fry. This bellicose activist bubbling with sanctimonious cant is backed up by the hapless Marc, whose ideology extends to “we should be nice to animals.” The much put upon (and pissed upon) sidekick played by To Bennett remains the only character without a hidden agenda. This makes him all the easier to manipulate by the right-on Jago and Machiavellian Caro, played by Gwyneth Keyworth as a pampered opportunist.
There are elements of the surreal, not least the humanoid frogs which haunt doped up Gerry’s dreams with their speciesist debates. The play also includes plenty of absurd Ayckbourn-situations, often involving partial nudity and slapstick pratfalls. Raising Martha is far from subtle, but continues in the British comedy tradition of double entendres and flagrant caricatures to create a hearty romp of a play. Pop Culture Beast strongly advises black comedy fans to head to Park theatre to have their ribs thoroughly tickled.
Raising Martha, Park Theatre