Park Theatre, London – until 11 February 2017
Raising Martha is a production that has been hit by various casting changes, firstly Morgana Robinson was replaced by Game of Throne’s Gwyneth Keyworth and in a less high profile change Jasper Britton was replaced by Stephen Boxer. The production hasn’t suffered for it. David Spicer’s pieces about animal rights activists who target the dead mother of the current owners is funny, energetic and understands what being a stage comedy is all about.
Detective Clout (some comedy gravitas from Jeff Rawle, famous for his role in Drop the Dead Donkey) investigates the disappearance of Martha Duffy, dead for five years she has been dug up by animal rights activists Marc (Tom Bennett) and Jago (Joel Fry) and estranged brothers Gerry, the hippie one played by Stephen Boxer and Roger, the drunken one, played by Julian Bleach are forced to reunite over the ransom demands regarding their frog and toad farm, especially as Gerry now has a side business combining cane toad extract and cannabis. The problem is neither brother really liked Martha when she was alive but Roger’s concern is his spoiled and indulged daughter, Caro (Keyworth).
There’s lot of great performances, all have great comic timing. I was particularly amazed by Boxer, an actor I associate with serious works and who reminds me John Hurt, who was fantastic as the stoned, lonely Gerry and worked really well with Bleach. It will be Rawle as Detective Clout will get all the accolades, it feels as though the role was written for him as he gets Clout’s misplaced confidence, as he stumbles around, just right.
Most importantly it is a comedy that is actually funny but the story doesn’t have much depth and it could be argued that as a stage comedy it doesn’t need to dig too deeply. Spicer, who I will disclose I know from Twitter, is clearly an experienced writer who had put characters over a overly detailed story but I suspect it will divide its audience. Spicer attempts to aim jokes at all ages but 6 foot frogs, extended sex scenes and hallucinations will probably not go down well with Park’s surprisingly traditional audiences.
As creative piece it is stunning, Michael Fentiman as director has really understood Spicer’s work and isn’t afraid to attempt the tone and pace throughout. Rebecca Brower’s set, looking like the toad tank, is simple especially in the context that there are only two locations on stage; a grave and a sofa doubling up as both the Duffy brothers and the animal rights activists’ bases. Oddly as all the critics muttered about our placing in the circle it became clear that these are probably the best seats for this role (with my cheap seat hat on, probably much cheaper than the stalls)
It should be a hit, lack of big names may hinder that, but it has very much benefitted from its sudden casting changes with this group of actors who have fantastic chemistry.