Nottingham Theatre Royal - on tour
Maybe it was the glorious weather that kept people away. Perhaps regular theatregoers weren't attracted by a former Blue Peter presenter in the lead role. Whatever the reason for the empty seats in the middle of this play's stay in Nottingham, hundreds of those who couldn't be bothered to attend will no doubt be berating themselves for missing a fabulous production.
Admittedly I too had reservations about Peter Duncan beforehand. He's obviously best-known for his five years in the world of sticky-backed plastic and unpredictable animals, and for his own action series Duncan Dares. But before he became the squeaky-clean face of children's television he'd done a run of eleven plays at the National Theatre and since then he's played the lead in Barnum.
His love of adventure isn't really required in Corpse!, although playing the identical twins Evelyn and Rupert Farrant calls for him to nip smartly from one part of the set to another. Instead we see Duncan's deft skill in portraying two entirely different characters and feeling totally comfortable with both.
First he is Evelyn, the camp, ever-so-slightly over-the-top resting actor, a Graham Norton without the shock factor, who is bitter about his twin's fortune and more lavish lifestyle; then he is the aristocrat Rupert, suave and refined, who despises anyone beneath his class and looks down on his sibling. Duncan not only puts on contrasting voices for each part, his body language is exceptional as he walks and holds himself differently. It's an extraordinarily good performance.
Corpse! is set in December 1936 on the day of Edward VIII's abdication, a day when everyone is at home waiting to hear the King's history-making speech on the radio. So there is hardly anyone around who will know the comings and goings at Evelyn's basement flat in Soho and in Rupert's house in Regent's Park.
Evelyn engages the bumbling Major Powell, another who's not quite all he seems, to bump off his brother so that Evelyn can take Rupert's place. Not everything, though, goes to plan - or does it?
Colin Baker, who has played the twins in the past, is perfectly suited to the major's role and knows how to be the perfect foil for Duncan. He becomes more and more flustered as he realises he is inextricably linked to Evelyn's plot and Baker has the funniest lines and situations, especially when he tries to clean Evelyn's flat of his fingerprints.
Louise Jameson (Bergerac and latterly Rosa di Marco in EastEnders) is endearing as Cockney landlady Mrs McGee whose love of alcohol often means she forgets to take action over Evelyn's rent arrears. Her real-life partner David Warwick is steady as PC Hawkins.
Gerald Moon has written a tremendously clever play which has more twists than a corkscrew. Although you may be able to guess some of them, you're hardly likely to fathom out every intricacy.
Elroy Ashmore's set is a delight, Evelyn's dingy flat on one side contrasting with the opulence of Rupert's home with its sweeping staircase and revolving drinks cabinet.
Occasionally the script doesn't drive on the action as quickly as it might and the fencing bout between Duncan and Baker isn't as credible as it should be. All in all though Robin Herford (The Woman In Black) has directed a performance that should draw admiration in any weather. But the attendance must have been a bit of a body blow.
Reviewer: Steve Orme