Militant animal rights’ activists Marcus (Tom Bennett) and Jago (Joel Fry)-né Graham- have absconded with the remains of the not-so-dearly-departed Martha Duffy. Her sons Gerry (Stephen Boxer) and Roger (Julian Bleach-a 21st Century Kenneth Williams) are duly informed by sardonic Inspector Clout (Jeff Rawle).
Gerry is none-too-pleased to have a police presence in his humble abode. He’s cultivating a weed farm which has proved to be a lucrative online business. His latest product, laced with the essence of hallucinogenic toads, is particularly potent. It is this very breeding of amphibians on the Duffy premises for (previously) scientific research that has attracted the ire of Jago.
The corpse-stealing is the latest in a sustained campaign of terror against the brothers, which Clout is supposedly investigating.
Roger’s daughter, Caroline (Gwyneth Keyworth) feigns horror over the disinterment of her grandmother. In reality, she’s the Patty Hearst of animal rights activism; albeit with less noble motives. She’s in cahoots with the enemy. Both of them. Hapless Marc has his suspicions that his lady is messing around with his flatmate. Jago succeeds in distracting him by pontificating about his commitment to the cause. Caro, on the other hand, is far less dedicated. She merely wants the proceeds from the farm when, she hopes, daddy and uncle are forced to sell-up to put an end to the madness.
Serious gender imbalance notwithstanding (only one female character in a cast of six), David Spicer’s Raising Martha is a rib-tickling socio-political satire in which sanctimonious veggies, insensitive meat-eaters, middle-class privilege and heavy-handed law enforcement are mercilessly pilloried. The machine-gun wit of Spicer’s dialogue almost invariably hits its target, even in its self-regarding use of cliché. The ensemble has lots of nudge/wink fun with the material and Rebecca Brower’s grimly ambitious set; part sepulchre, part greenhouse and part grubby living-space. Phone Shop alumnus Tom Bennett and the dynamic Joel Fry make an especially good comedy duo. Keyworth slips comfortably into the role of entitled schemer, Caro, after talented impersonator Morgana Robinson pulled out of the production for personal reasons, leaving big shoes to fill.
Beneath all the hi-jinks is a serious discourse on the ever-evolving definition of rights and how they are appropriated and/or abused for self-serving ends. Set aside the farce format and the raucous energy, and Raising Martha is a very cynical outlook on humanity indeed.
Written by David Spicer
Directed by Michael Fentiman
Set design – Rebecca Brower
Lighting Design – Elliott Griggs
Wardrobe- Ryan Walklett
Casting- Anne Vosser
Tom Bennett- Marc
Julian Bleach - Roger
Stephen Boxer- Gerry
Joel Fry - Jago
Gwyneth Keyworth - Caro
Jeff Rawle-Inspector Clout
Raising Martha plays at the Park200, London until 11 February 2017.