REVIEW: Arsenic and Old Lace is a must see show

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The summer holidays are here again, and it’s also the start of another season of classic thrillers at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

This month-long festival of murder, mystery and intrigue has been delighting audiences old and new for nearly three decades, and the current line-up looks set to continue these high standard with four very different productions to suit all tastes.

This week, the curtain went up on Arsenic and Old Lace, an American dark comedy by Joseph Kesselring, which proved a box office hit on its stage premiere in 1941, prompting the New York Times to say that it was “so funny that none of us will ever forget it.”

Fast forward 75 years and that description still holds good with one-liners galore as the two elderly Brewster sisters hold court in their home-cum boarding house in 1940s New York.

This was a gem of a role for company stalwarts Susan Earnshaw and Karen Henson whose hospitality to their gentlemen callers included serving up their renowned elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine with “just a pinch of cyanide.”

Their nefarious activities (they had already buried 12 bodies in the cellar) were soon rumbled by their nephew, drama critic Mortimer (played with style and elan by newcomer Richard Ede) but he had his work cut keeping his aunts’ activities secret from his bride-to-be, next-door neighbour Elaine Harpham (Anna Mitcham).

He also had to contend with the antics of his brother, Teddy (Michael Sherwin), who thought he was President Roosevelt, and then the surprise arrival of his long-lost brother, Jonathan (Andrew Ryan) looking a lot like Boris Karloff thanks to the efforts of his travelling companion, dodgy doctor Dr Einstein (Andrew Fettes).

This must-see opening production, which has so many intertwined stories that it could almost be one of the Ealing Comedies, runs until this Saturday July 30, and further details of tickets, £11 to £23, and show times can be obtained from the Theatre Royal box office on 0115 9895555 or via the website at

The season continues next week (Tuesday August 2 to Saturday August 6) with House Guest by Welsh writer/ actor Emlyn Williams in which a stranger ingratiates himself into the home of film star Robert Ryan and his wife after their son is kidnapped.

Murder at the turn of the turn of the last century, and a culprit who does not leave any trace, is the theme of Father Brown -- The Curse of the Invisible Man (Tuesday August 9, to Saturday August 13) which Arsenic and Old Lace director John Goodrum has based on the clerical mysteries of G. K. Chesterton.

The season ends with Mindgame (Tuesday August 16 to Saturday August 20) by Foyle’s War writer Anthony Horowitz in which Mark Styler, a writer of glossy true crime paperbacks, finds himself in mortal danger when he tries to get an interview with a notorious serial killer.