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Mortimer Dramatic Society - Beyond a Joke

23rd to 24th October and 30th to 31st October 2015

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Derek Benfield’s comedy Beyond a Joke is an unlikely story about a house with a problem – visitors seem prone to fatal accidents. The tally is six so far, and counting. Jane and Andrew own the house, and their daughter Sally, her boyfriend Geoff and Jane’s sister Sarah are joining them for the weekend. Geoff finds out about the deaths, but gets hold of the wrong end of the stick: he thinks that Andrew and Jane have murdered them. When more people turn up, the situation gets complicated.

Mari Fleming and Tom Shorrock are well matched as Jane and Andrew, and bicker as married couples do; Andrew just wants a quiet life, and takes things in his stride, leaving Jane to do the hard work. Geoff is a very difficult character to play; most of the time he’s highly agitated, worrying that Jane and Andrew are going to commit more murders, but he has to mix this with bouts of catatonic depression. Phil Collins got to grips with the role well.

Cathy Ramsell as Sally and Paula Stenson as Sarah did a good job of adding to the confusion. The appearance of the Vicar at the end of Act 1 started the transition from comedy to farce. Darren Reed was excellent as the Vicar, with some lovely facial expressions and a fixed grin as he struggled to fathom what was happening. Towards the end, Geoff’s parents Audrey and Edgar appear. Mary Auckland, as the bird-like Audrey, and James Burton Stewart, as the increasingly sarcastic Edgar, made a good contrast with the other couple. John Bull, as the TV repair man, was a little stiff.

Mortimer Dramatic have got a team of good actors, but the cues needed to be a lot sharper and the entrances quicker, particularly in the farce of the second act. Maybe it was first-night jitters, but nevertheless the laughs were still there.

The two-part set was interesting, nicely finished and worked well – I particularly liked Nick Pounder’s mural – and director Tom Shorrock used the space to good effect.