It’s December 11th, 1936 and a very tall, elegant middle-aged woman returns to her Soho flat from a trip to Fortnum & Mason to stock up with items for lunch. As she begins to undress, we see that all is not what it seems. The woman is, in fact, itinerant actor Rupert Farrant and under his coat is a series of pockets where he has secreted a stick of French bread, some caviar, a bottle of wine etc. for Farrant hasn’t been shopping at Fortnum’s but shoplifting. On top of that, Mrs McGee, his busybody of a landlady is demanding unpaid rent for the seedy, Soho room.
The reason for the food and drink is that he’s about to entertain Major Powell who he’s going to try to inveigle into killing Farrant’s identical twin brother for whilst Evelyn is dirt poor, Rupert is mega-rich and when he’s dead, Evelyn can take his place and no-one will ever be the wiser.
That’s the basic plot of Gerald Moon’s 1983 play Corpse! There are as many twists in it as a New York pretzel as the incompetent Powell takes Evelyn’s offer of £10000 to do the dirty deed but like Evelyn, Powell isn’t the person he seems to be. To give any more away would spoil the surprises that come thick and fast – especially in the second act.
The problem with this revival of Corpse! is that it’s basically an old fashioned British farce and to do that properly you need a bit of space so that bodies can appear and re-appear, characters can walk out of one door and back in another as a different character and the tiny Park 90 doesn’t really lend itself to this although the set itself is ingenious and even has a revolve where Evelyn’s seedy room in Soho, transforms into Rupert’s posh house in Regent’s Park. Also, the other thing that true face needs is pace and I’m afraid Corpse! lacks some of that although that may improve as the run goes on and the actors get more comfortable in their roles and the timing improves.
There are some funny lines although a lot of them are in-jokes about the acting profession with lots of quotes from Shakespeare. A lot of the dialogue is corny and hasn’t aged well and the attempt to seduce the obviously gay actor by his landlady seems contrived; even she says, “I’ve never known a man with so many nephews” before offering him a “seduction in rent”.
Tom York who’s best known for his TV roles in the likes of American Gods, looks like a young James Mason and you wouldn’t know he was making his professional theatre debut. As well as playing the twins and dressing up as a woman bearing a resemblance to Queen Mary whose son Edward VII is about to make his abdication speech on the day the play is set, he also cooks blinis on a working hot plate (although the Teflon pan seems an anachronism). Paul Kemp as Major Powell is totally over the top as the Irish soldier with the shady past and Felicity Duncan is very funny as Liverpudlian Mrs McGee who just can’t help herself from turning up at inappropriate moments. There’s also a small cameo from John Hastings as a police constable but he has other duties throughout the play – his shoes are the giveaway – I’ll say no more!
In the programme, Corpse! styles itself as in the pantheon of Sleuth and Deathtrap but unfortunately it doesn’t have the sharpness and wit of those two masterpieces of the genre. It could benefit from a bit of a trim and there are too many actorial references and in-jokes that not everyone will get but there enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep audiences amused.
Review by Alan Fitter
Central London … December 1936 … Edward VIII is about to deliver his abdication speech. In a dingy Soho flat, flamboyant theatrical Evelyn Farrant is struggling to pay the rent to his devoted landlady Mrs McGee. Evelyn’s twin brother, Rupert Farrant, lives on the other side of town in upmarket Regent’s Park. He is rich … excessively rich. Enter Major Ambrose Powell, a petty-criminal. He is about to become the reluctant accomplice in Evelyn’s fool-proof plan to bump-off his own brother and inherit his vast wealth. Evelyn’s plan is so meticulous in the making, so perfect in the planning, that nothing, absolutely nothing untoward could possibly happen … or could it?
TOM YORK | FARRANT
PAUL KEMP | MAJOR POWELL
FELICITY DUNCAN | MRS MCGEE
JOHN HASTINGS | HAWKINS
WRITER | GERALD MOON
DIRECTOR | CLIVE BRILL
CASTING DIRECTOR | HAYLEY KAIMAKLIOTIS
SET DESIGN | BETH COLLEY
COSTUME DESIGN | NEIL GORDON
LIGHTING & SOUND DESIGN | PIP THURLOW
STAGE MANAGER | MELISSA BERRY
PRODUCTION MANAGER | ADAM SMITH
MARKETING | KENNEDY BLOOMER
PR | DAVID BURNS
By Gerald Moon
Directed by Clive Brill
Park Theatre (Park90)
Wednesday 4 March – Saturday 28 March
Press Night: Thursday 5 March at 19.00