Eco terrorism, grave robbing, body snatching and hallucinogenic toads. David Spicer has thrown the lot into Raising Martha, a black comedy, which opened last night at London’s Park Theatre.
Writing comedy must be fiendishly difficult. What the playwright may find hysterical could leave others stony faced.
Working on this principle I get the feeling Spicer has decided to throw caution to the wind and include every bizarre, surreal and absurdist thought that he ever had in this epically lunatic production.
I thought it was hilarious but I could see, taking a visual straw poll around the first night audience, that it was fifty-fifty among the rest.
The plot is ridiculous but its madcap eccentricity tickled my funny bone from beginning to end. Some of the gags are outrageous and in bad taste while others are so corny that you can’t help but groan.
I can’t imagine the comedy will win any awards – it’s rather rough around the edges – but Raising Martha is a perfect pick-me-up to combat the January blues.
Martha (a real bitch of a woman – apparently) has been dead and buried for five years when eco terrorists Jago (Joel Fry) and Marc dig up her bones to hold to ransom in a bid to stop her aging hippy son, Gerry, continuing to run a frog farm that provides amphibians for vivisection.
But Gerry, who claims he is trapped in his house by animal rights campaigners, has already diversified, growing cannabis and mixing the pot with essence of cane toad to produce a lucrative – and very trippy – sideline (although if he’s been incarcerated for years one wonders how he sells his crop).
The foul-mouthed Gerry (a completely off-your-face performance by Stephen Boxer) spends most of his time licking toads, having conversations with two imaginary six-foot frogs, and trying to compose lyrics to rhyme with Linda.
“I’ve spent three years stuck in this house suffering from exploding front gates and shit in the post!” exclaims a scruffy Gerry.
Enter Jeff Rawle’s mutton-chopped Det Insp Clout, dressed like Columbo, with the brain of Clouseau, spouting plod jargon and frustrated at being lumbered with the unhappy assignment of keeping the peace at Chez Gerry.
He has summoned Gerry’s equally weird brother, Roger (Julian Bleach) with the grave undertaking of telling them that someone has stolen their mum’s body – or at least what’s left of it.
“But our mother is dead and buried,” says Gerry. “As of last night, sir, you are 50 per cent right,” admits Clout.
“How low can these people get?” he cries.
“About six feet apparently. They left behind a thigh bone which could be the grave robber’s Achilles heel!”
From there on we follow the antics of Jago, Marc and Roger’s scheming daughter, Caro (Gwyneth Keyworth,) plus Gerry and Roger’s increasingly unhinged response to the crisis,and Clout pursuing his own agenda.
You can’t help but love the radiant Tom Bennett, as Marc, who spends the entire performance covered in muck and mainly in graves where, in one scene, a drunken Roger urinates on him.
But somewhere, underneath the dirt, is an irrepressible personality, that occasionally breaks through. Cheeky Marc mocks Jago’s hard-line attempts at recording a ransom demand on VHS. “It’s a bit ’80s innit?”
Stephen Boxer, who joined the production at late notice, is priceless as the slovenly Gerry while Jeff Rawle’s Clout is terrific.
Writer David Spicer has packed the production with lots of quotable lines which reference shows like Midsomer Murders (and Columbo) and the laughs come thick and fast.
Director Michael Fentiman lets the reins slip a bit at the finale, which descends into a physical free-for-all, but mainly this comedy delivers without any toadying to political correctness.
Raising Martha runs at the Park Theatre until February 11.
Better hop to it and catch the uproarious Raising Martha at Park Theatre where frog farm diversification leads to grave undertakings by animal rights activists.