13th – 15th April 1995
Vincent is from Exodus, a euthanasia group that assists people in suicide. When he is invited to Walter Bryce’s country house to assist in the disposal of Walter’s wife he senses something is wrong. Why are the suicide notes unsigned? What is the role of Walter’s attractive secretary? Why has the Samaritan been sent for?
Vincent: Paul Shave
Walter: Mike Long
Angie: Rebecca Jones
Celia: Caroline Cook
Withers: Mark Bailey
Produced by Paul Plested
Newbury Weekly News review
Tickled to death
Compton Players are a group who drive themselves to the highest standards possible, and who deserve to be reviewed as serious practitioners of amateur theatre.
In Natural Causes, Mike Long’s job was to create and maintain the character of an intellectual who had come from humble beginnings, married young and carved a successful career into teaching and writing. His Walter was thoroughly believable. So also were the other two male characters. At first, it seemed that Paul Shave was altogether too staid to derive much fun out of a professional adviser in the art of personal termination, but as the play developed we saw how his delicate understatement of the character enabled him to use his physical advantages to the full. His imposing height, doleful demeanour and cadaverous visage captured Vincent’s complexes perfectly. He wasted not one of those carefully-wrought one-liners. He smelled of death.
Angie and Celia are characters who must be strictly contrasted between a mistress who is manipulatively frivolous and a wife who has wasted her sexuality in the pursuit of affectation. Clearly, Celia came from the same beginnings as Walter but could not easily rise with him. Caroline Cook caught all of this, but had to do it a trifle ponderously, because Rebecca Jones, as Angie, is not quite as adolescent as I think the author intended. That is not an adverse criticism of Rebecca Jones, who gave ample evidence of why Walter found her so attractive. So why dress her in such sensible clothes… including a grey cardigan? Was it to avoid Celia’s suspicions as Angie worked with Walter in his home-office, under Celia’s nose? Both Angie and Rebecca are brighter than to imagine that such a shallow device would have fooled anyone, especially a survivor like Celia. Incidentally, how did Celia make her money? The vivacity and love of stagecraft of both ladies came through clearly.
Mark Bailey gave us an enjoyable performance as the naïve Samaritan, Withers. He moves well, enjoys his work, has splendid presence and is an unselfish actor with a gift for comedy, but my notes say “gabble-hoarse-enunciation-much good work wasted”.
By now, you may have deduced that we were treated to a play which might be categorised as black comedy. Wife being cheated on must be despatched without depriving her best friend’s daughter who is also her husband’s secretary/lover of the advantages of her money. An expert from ‘Exodus’ is summoned. Pity Joe Orton didn’t think of this plot first.
We watched a happy team at work under a director who is has now proved his possession of those necessary director’s attributes of discipline and vision. Comic timing lapsed only occasionally, the telephone conversations never; the audience could always “see” the person on the other end of the line. To the short list of adverse comments must be added masking at vital moments: a poison bottle which disappeared behind a box of tissues and an expiring lady who disappeared behind a settee (whereafter a rotten folded “tarpaulin” didn’t help). Comic possibilities were wasted. Shame these happened, because, at most other times the blocking worked. And the incidental music was wittily chosen, starting with ‘Die Forelle’ (about the demise of an innocent trout) and included such gems as ‘Every time you say goodbye I die a little’. Paul Plested has now proved his ability to extract good ideas and use them effectively. Let’s hope he is given lots more opportunities, with plays as much fun as this one, with actors and actresses as able as these.