Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Wife After Death

Eric Chappell
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
(2010)

Production photo

The truth will out and there's nothing like death to help it find the exit.

In Eric Chappell's new comedy much loved television comedian David Thursby has died and many who knew him gather at his home to pay their respects. But who really knew him at all: as they peer at Dave's body resting in the open coffin, skeletons pop out of cupboards behind them - more literally than metaphorically in fact, when it comes to the weekly assignations between Dave and his agent's wife in the stationery store.

There are some satisfying twists in the storyline that redeem what is otherwise largely unexceptional material, but whilst the plot may thicken the laughs fail to build up to a hilarious peak and there is no danger of any rolling into the aisles in uncontrollable mirth.

Could it be that in the last week of a tour the energy levels were just too low? Or could it be that Tuesday's audience just wasn't sufficiently amused by the repeated mother-in-law style jokes about the size of Vi's backside or the struggling to get off the sofa routine became predictable, but not in a funny way?

It's not that there's anything actually wrong with it, just that it's all rather dated - the format, the situation, a lot of the gags ...

Tom Conti plays faithful friend, colleague and gag writer Harvey. Laconic one-liners fall effortlessly from his lips with an undependable northern accent and although Harvey has something of Conti's signature charm about him, quite why wife Vi doesn't slog him one remains a mystery.

Plump comedy veteran Royce Mills and "stick insect" Diana Marchment are the 'little and large' couple of the piece, he playing the agent intent on "damage limitation" and she more interested in who is at the funeral and what they are wearing, most especially the unexpected guest, Elizabeth Payne's Kay, who snorts ungraciously as she laughingly throws the cat amongst the pigeons.

Diane Fletcher's deadpan put-upon Vi is both touching and funny and the only character we actually care about at all.

The set by Norman Coates is terrific - B&Q's interpretation of ancient Rome in suburbia - and provides the perfect setting for Nina Young's crass wife-in-mourning. It also provides no challenges for the co-directors (Conti and Tom Kinninmont) whose staging is firmly rooted in the 'all in a line along the front and parting quips at the French doors' style.

This is cosy comedy of the old school.

Sheila Connor reviewed this production at Guildford.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti