REVIEW: Raising Martha, Park Theatre ✭✭

Raising Martha at the Park Theatre
Photo Darren Bell

Raising Martha
Park Theatre
17 January 2017
2 Stars
Book Tickets

A family frog farm in rural England is the target of local animal rights activists, and they have exhumed the bones of the family’s long dead matriarch, Martha. This is intended to get the farm closed down, or sold, and Inspector Clout is brought in to investigate the case and keep us within the narrative spool.  If you’re sitting in the uncomfortable seats in the circle at the Park, you need to be kept fully engaged in the onstage action. Unfortunately, David Spicer’s script veers between genuine laugh out lines, which are a little too rare to keep the comedy going, and the kind of puerile nonsense that kept giving me flashbacks of some of the student productions I had to sit through in my teaching career. (Hallucinating six-foot frogs, in particular, being a particularly embarrassing and unfunny device.)

Raising Martha at the Park Theatre
Stephen Boxer, Jeff Rawle and Julian Bleach. Photo: Darren Bell

Faced with such a lacklustre script, the cast bravely overacts, and often shout the plot summaries out loud just in case we are unable to follow the one topic narrative. To be fair, the partnership of Tom Bennett and Joel Fry as the hapless activists Marc and Jago is comedy gold in places.  Bennett, in particular, is excellent as the truly incompetent one, in love with Caro, (feisty and energetic Gwyneth Keyworth), who is, of course, having sex with Jago. Their scenes are the best in the play, crackling with comedy, and they almost make the evening worthwhile.

Raising Martha at the Park Theatre
Gwyneth Keyworth and Julian Bleach. Photo Darren Bell

Unfortunately, the rest of the play plods as brothers Gerry, (Stephen Boxer), who licks toads to get a hallucination induced high, and Roger, (Julian Bleach using his voice to sinister effect, which is then under used), argue and bicker over the future of the farm. Jeff Rawle gives a good performance as Clout, but even he seems bemused by the plot. It started well, with Rebecca Brower’s functional set revealing Marc and Jago digging up the body, but the play then lumbers towards its inevitable and predictable conclusion. With its comments on the police state and civil liberties, and the black comedy involving the corpse of Martha, there’s more than a whiff of Loot in the show. But that sound that you hear in the production is not frogs croaking. It’s the ghost of Joe Orton tutting with boredom that, in fifty years, his anarchic comedy has not been bettered.

Until 11 February 2017


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