Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Raising Martha

David Spicer
Michael James Cox and Tom O’Connell in association with Park Theatre
Park Theatre (200)

Stephen Boxer, Jeff Rawle and Julian Bleach Credit: Darren Bell
Gerry (Stephen Boxer) and the giant toads Credit: Darren Bell
Stephen Boxer Credit: Darren Bell

David Spicer, the writer of Raising Martha, may at one time have been a stand-up comedian. You can imagine him pacing the floor as he delivered a series of one-line jokes. You can also imagine afterwards a friend praising the jokes and then suggesting to him a bit more structure, and maybe some link between the jokes.

I wished that friend had done the same as he wrote his play Raising Martha. The jokes are generally okay but the play lacks substance, the plot is clumsy, and the characterisation is little more than cartoon silliness. But this is a joke-driven show.

The Martha of the play’s title is the five years dead former owner of a frog farm that is dug up by animal rights activists intending to blackmail Martha’s adult sons Gerry (Stephen Boxer) and Roger (Julian Bleach) into closing the farm down.

That is not something Gerry has any intention of doing having secretly turned the farm over to the production of cannabis mixed with the sweat of toads. He also seems addicted to licking the sweat of the toads despite this producing disturbing hallucinations in which he is visited by two six-foot toads that prod and eventually start to dissect him.

The plot is initially interesting and the show opens with some strikingly funny scenes, particularly around the grave where the activists squabble and a local police inspector Clout (Jeff Rawls) emerges to comment on the crime directly to the audience.

However, the characters do seem to belong to different worlds. Gerry has the look of the teacher from the TV series Breaking Bad while Clout seems to have stepped out of an Ealing comedy. The activists even reprise those long gone marital farces that haunted the West End as they run about without their trousers.

The plot gets a little strange in the first half, especially around the six-foot toads, but that is nothing compared with the messiness of the second half.

In one scene it is impossible to hear what Clout is saying for the noise of two characters having sex, Roger the supposedly sensible brother, when he is alone turns over the couch, pulls out a shotgun and points it at a toad. I have no idea why, but then as all the characters started fighting each other I lost track of a lot of what was going on.

Even the jokes that hold the audience in their seats can be a distracting irritation. When Clout brings in Martha’s skull, which her sons think might be evidence of their part in murdering her, he tells them it has been examined by constable Toby. Gerry quips back, "or not to be."

At another point, Clout says, "blackmail is an ugly word." To which Gerry responds with, "so is cunnilingus but..."

Jokes do keep the show rolling along, but stringing them together as a package doesn’t make a play, and by the end the faces of those sitting around me in the circle of the theatre looked bewildered.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna