WITH the Marine Theatre enjoying sell-out audiences with its programme of top end entertainment to suit all tastes, it is good to see that the bastion of seaside theatre – amateur dramatics – is still thriving in Lyme Regis.
Local audiences of past productions of the former Lyme Regis Dramatic Society, now the Marine Players, have always appreciated the wide range of well known plays – thrillers, dramas, comedies and farce – and their latest offering, ‘A Tomb With A View’, staged at the theatre this week, was certainly no exception.
This four-act Norman Robbins play was billed as a comedy-thriller. There was plenty of comic moments for the audience to enjoy and, as for thrills, it was difficult to keep up with the storyline as there were more corpses than live members left of the stage.
We have come to expect high standards from the Marine Players and Steve Miller, directing his first play for the group, will be well pleased with the manner his cast members kept the action going at a terrific pace with more twists and turns than a Brexit agreement.
Set in the library of a creepy old manor house, complete with its own crypt, the storyline revolved around the reading of the will of Septimus Tomb, whose beady-eyed portrait took pride of place over the mantle shelf.
It was there that his five dysfunctional children, with an inbred hatred of each other, gathered to hear what the unloved father had left them as his will was read by their “highly respected” family lawyer, having lined his own pockets for services rendered and prepared to murder for more.
The siblings were incandescent with rage when they heard that an unknown person had been invited to the will reading, as decreed by scheming old Septimus to annoy his offspring, an authoress whose books had succeeded in the driving old insomniac to sleep.
She got the lion’s share of his fortune, had the inheritance not been turned into cash and conveniently mislaid as well as disappearing in death duties.
It turned out she wasn’t the author of the books but was in fact the agent of her companion Peregrine Potter, who was travelling with her. Are you still with me?
Fred Humphrey has been the driving force behind the dramatic society and the Marine Players in recent years, a seasoned local stage performer.
He made a wholly believable Hamilton Penworthy, the family solicitor not adverse to a bit of sculduggery to satisfy his own greed. But he went too far and paid the penalty of death.
One of my favourite local stage actors, Brian Rattenbury, was perfectly cast as the unbearably pompous elder son, Lucien Tomb, a scientist whose laboratory was sacred ground for all and sundry. We wondered why. Brian’s comedic timing was spot on as always.
Another memorable performance came from Anne King, the lynchpin of so many previous productions at the Marine Theatre. Her experience was used to full force as the batty sister Dora who had a penchant for poisoning callers to the manor with her homemade wine, burying them in her prized garden, including the Avon lady, an insurance man and the village morris dancers.
The role of the butch Emily Tomb fell to Pearl Marsland, a delightful portrayal of the one Tomb sister who had long abandoned the family home and their weird existence. But her insistence on her fair share also ended in a bloody conclusion.
The most bizarre character, that of disturbed brother Marcus Tomb, who thought he was Caesar, complete with toga and laurel wreath, was entrusted to the excellent John Gooden, quoting Shakespeare at every opportunity, but he too fell to the murderer’s bullet. “Et tu Brute”.
Apparently there was another brother who howled from the family crypt, at least I think that’s what happened as he was incarcerated in a cell, never to be seen. By this time I was pretty confused.
So the final member of the Tomb family was man-mad Monica Tomb, who made a beeline for the unfortunate Peregrine. Lorraine Knowles was at her cocquette best.
Peregrine was portrayed by Jon Doody who looked as confused as most of the audience by the comings and goings but he grew into the role and ended as an unlikely hero – of sorts.
Every country house has a formidable housekeeper and Margaret Morgan, in the role of Agatha Hammond, who was convinced old Septimus was faking his death, was certainly that. But she knew too much and she too met a violent end.
The role of literary agent Freda Mountjoy, the millionairess to be, was portrayed with confidence by Linda Crawford but she too was lying dead in the crypt when the curtain went down.
So we are left with just one suspect – the seemly mild-mannered and kind nurse Anne Franklin, played by the wholly believable (at least in then first two acts) Juliet Henman.
It transpired it was the nurse what done it, but she was thwarted and stabbed by the streetwise Monica in cohorts with the suddenly assertive Peregrine. Confused? Me too – but an enjoyable evening nonetheless.
PRODUCTION TEAM: Steve Miller (director, lighting and sound design); Jo Smith Oliver and Yvonne Marsh (stage management); Ruth Rose (assistant stage manager); Pete Hackett and Autumn Rees (lighting and sound operation); Cherine Hill and Anita Routley (props); John Gooden, members and cast (set painting construction); Jen Humphrey (portrait of Septimus Tomb); Fred Humphrey and John Gooden (publicity and programme design); the cast (wardrobe).