Royalty Theatre, Sunderland.
This month’s offering from the Royalty Theatre is a dark comedy by Eric Chappell, who most people will know as the writer of sit-coms such as Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh, and Duty Free.
This play is very reminiscent of such sit-coms: a collection of disparate characters thrown together in an unusual or unfamiliar situation, forced to see it through to the bitter end, while trading banter, clever one-liners and funny running jokes.
Like those sit-coms, Natural Causes requires a small cast of talented and versatile actors to pull it off, and the Royalty has certainly come up trumps with this.
Simon Marks displays a comfortable ease and a canny knack for comic delivery as professional suicide merchant Vincent. As his client Walter Bryce, stalwart Frank Ditchburn displays an expert command of the stage, and is thoroughly watchable and believable throughout.
Denise Page is great as Walter’s wife Celia, particularly in the second act when we see more of her manipulating the plot and keeping track of which glass holds the poison! And Victoria-Louise Lapping does a nice job as Walter’s secretary and secret lover.
The introduction of a Samaritans councellor makes for a huge part of the comedy of the piece. This part is brilliantly played by Jeff Page. He gets the balance between big laughs and softer moments of contemplation just right. It’s a testemant to his skill and ability to say that it’s as if he’d rehearsed the play with the rest of the cast from the start when, in fact, he apparently only took over the role last week when another cast member pulled out.
The script is very funny, at times quite farcical, and it had the audience in stitches and talking enthusiastically about it in the bar afterwards. It would probably have benefitted from being trimmed slightly, but this is a minor niggle over what is a thoroughly entertaining night at the theatre.
(Originally printed in the Sunderland Echo, 10th March 2012)