Wife After Death

Eric Chappell
Churchill Theatre, Bromley, production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2010)

Production photo

Bob Larbey, writer of television series such as As Time Goes By and The Good Life, is reputed to have said that one ‘look’ from Judi Dench could save him pages of script, and Eric Chappell, in the programme notes, has made much the same comment in praise for the mobile face of Leonard Rossiter in his Rising Damp, the seventies sitcom set in a seedy boarding house, which is still being broadcast today.

‘Looks’ are used to great effect in this hilarious comedy, most especially by Dianne Fletcher’s Vi Barrett when she considers her gag-writing husband has overstepped the mark. The occasion is the funeral of his best friend and business partner, yet he can’t seem to stop the flood of - not tears - but very funny one-liners that he is sure his friend (now residing in an extravagant coffin in the living room of his very up-market home) would appreciate.

Tom Conti (who also shares direction with Tom Kinninmont) is Harvey Barrett, and delivers the jokes in an off-hand, cynical, dismissive and slightly inebriated manner, and in the husky drawl for which he is so well known.

‘Love and laughter‘ is the theme of the show, but love takes some surprising twists in the tale and, as this extravagant and meticulously planned funeral takes its course, the arrival of an unknown guest with her story causes not a little consternation, especially to Laura (Nina Young), the bereaved wife who seems to regard the funeral as an opportunity for a social occasion to show off her considerable wealth.

The laughter is continuous as the surprising developments on the ‘love‘ theme come to light, with Revelations suggested as an appropriate chapter of the bible to inspire a eulogy. Everyone thought they knew Dave so well - but each with a completely different view.

Royce Mills, a great favourite in Guildford, gives a terrific and very funny depiction of agent and friend Kevin Prewitt 'used to the seamy side of life' and desperately anxious for 'damage limitation' to suppress any scandal which could limit future revenue on royalties. His outraged bewilderment at what his wife Jane (Diana Marchment) managed in a stationery cupboard is a joy to behold.

The final member of the cast is Elizabeth Payne as Kay, the surprise guest who turns everything on its head.

Jokes are not totally unexpected - “The last time Dave died was at the Glasgow Empire”, and the ashes are inadvertently scattered, and pragmatically swept up by Diane Fletcher’s Vi, in a beautifully understated performance where she manages not to crack so much as a smile throughout the whole proceedings. Even the difficulty of getting up from a fashionably low sofa - appreciated by a sympathetic audience - was not overplayed, although maybe played a little too often.

This could so easily have degenerated into farce, but the excellence of the cast and the light, yet restraining touch of the directors keep it firmly in comedy territory, providing a terrific evening of (as they intended) love and laughter.

Touring to Oxford, Glasgow, Bath, Richmond, and Bromley

Sandra Giorgetti reviewed this production at Bromley

Reviewer: Sheila Connor