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Raising Martha at Park Theatre – Review

Raising Martha - Gwyneth Keyworth, Jeff Rawle & Tom Bennett
Raising Martha – Gwyneth Keyworth, Jeff Rawle & Tom Bennett – credit Darren Bell

Martha Duffy is at large and missing. Or at least what remains of her are missing. In the fullness of time what remains of her remains are recovered, though the narrative doesn’t clarify whether she is reinterred. That’s about it. That Raising Martha takes a couple of hours to meander its way through a sluggish plot, albeit one filled with punchline after punchline, is rather disappointing. When something is billed as a comedy, it is not unreasonable to expect to be amused. Instead, I found myself bemused and confused. And if there’s a double entendre there, well, there are a few too many in this show, which uses them just to raise titters rather than to advance any sort of story or journey.

Parts of the show are in the absurdist tradition – there’s even a direct reference to Harold Pinter – which may go some way to explaining why certain aspects seem unfeasible. As Gerry (Stephen Boxer) licks a toad (not an actual toad: the considerations of animals outweighing the spoiler factor on this occasion), I couldn’t help thinking about an early episode of the television animated comedy Family Guy, in which psychoactive toads are used by students at the local high school, only to cease doing so when convinced that the negative effects more than cancel out the highs.

There is also some parodying of Midsomer Murders and other similar television series, as Clout (Jeff Rawle), a police inspector, wheels out apparent clichés. It is a pity, then, that the play feels it necessary to assert, in effect, that Midsomer Murders is not worth watching: I have not seen it for some time now, but it must have some appeal to have reached 19 series (and counting) on national television.

This production is not completely devoid of genuine humour. I liked an early quip about graffiti laced with profanity on a wall, badly spelt and with incorrect grammar. “They [the graffiti artists] were probably schooled locally.” The contemporary references to relatable subjects in the world at large help to an extent to engage the audience. Whether Jago (Joel Fry) is the protagonist or really the antagonist is open to interpretation: what is more clear-cut is that his pedantic nature leaves him continually exposed to ‘analysis paralysis’. At least Caro (Gwyneth Keyworth) tries valiantly to make him see the wider picture – and could have been a more likeable character if only she had been better supported by a stronger script.

As it is, it’s difficult to feel empathy for any of the characters by the end. There’s nothing in this play inherently offensive; it is merely largely unfunny. Forced and unnecessary references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet could be easily removed without consequence to the play. An example: there’s an offstage character called Toby, or perhaps there isn’t, thus: “Toby or not Toby.” Oh please. At least Tom Bennett’s Marc has a decent and passionate stage presence, one of two stand-outs, the other being Rawle’s Inspector Clout, for the same reason.

It’s fairly well directed by Michael Fentiman, I’ll give the show that much. Bret Yount, the show’s fight director, deserves credit for a convincing penultimate scene. I suspect the themes in the play, such as animal welfare, veganism, and family matters, just don’t lend themselves very well to the comedy treatment. The hard-working cast stop this production from being a completely damp squib. Overall, I found it all a bit bizarre.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Gerry and Roger’s mum has gone missing. Well, most of her has… The unwitting victims of animal rights activists campaigning for the freedom of the family frog farm’s slimy inhabitants, the brothers must bring in the hapless Inspector Clout to establish the whereabouts of their long dead mother.

An absurdly funny comedy starring the finest comedy ensemble live on stage, Raising Martha tackles terrorism, animal rights and six-foot frogs!

Starring Tom Bennett (Netflix’s Mascots, E4’s Phone Shop); Julian Bleach (Doctor Who & best known for creating the role of MC in Shockheaded Peter); Stephen Boxer (The Iron Lady); Joel Fry (ITV’s Plebs, HBO’s Game of Thrones, Sky’s You, Me and the Apocalypse); Gwyneth Keyworth (E4’s Misfits, BBC’s The Great Outdoors); Jeff Rawle (Channel 4’s Drop the Dead Donkey, Handbagged; Tricycle / West End, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire).

Raising Martha
By David Spicer
Directed by Michael Fentiman
Cast includes: Tom Bennett, Julian Bleach, Stephen Boxer, Joel Fry, Gwyneth Keyworth and Jeff Rawle
Booking to 11th February 2017
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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