Back in May, I reviewed Thriller of the Year, a play by Glyn Jones which was performed by my local amateur theatre group, the Bridgewater Players. I enjoyed the evening so much that I was keen to see their next production, and last night I again had a good time, watching Natural Causes by Eric Chappell. Oddly enough, the theatre, at Thelwall Parish Hall, an excellent community resource which was the setting for a talk I gave, just over a week ago, to Lymm and Thelwall U3A, which to my amazement attracted about 70 people on a wet Thursday morning.
Eric Chappell's name will forever be associated with Rising Damp, a highly successful sitcom with an excellent cast led by the brilliant Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby, the odious landlord. But Rising Damp began life as a play called The Banana Box, first performed in 1971, and Chappell was certainly a very capable playwright. Natural Causes dates from 1984, during the period (lasting roughly a quarter of a century) when Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth exerted a powerful influence on blackly humorous thriller writing.
Natural Causes is described as a black comedy, and it has elements of farce. It's not, first and foremost, a thriller, even though poisoning and attempted poisoning is central to the storyline. As in Sleuth, and many of the plays that followed in its wake (including Thriller of the Year), the lead character is a writer, in this case Walter Bryce, an author of historical biographies who is a former teacher, kept in the style to which he'd like to become accustomed by a depressive wife who keeps threatening to commit suicide.
Unknown to his wife, Bryce is having an affair with his secretary Angie, who is keen for Mrs Bryce's threatened demise to become a reality. The couple enlist the aid of "Vincent", from Exodus, a business which offers assistance to suicides in return for cash, and the complications start from there. Paul Bidston and Howard Brooks led the way as Bryce and Vincent respectively, and were ably supported by Kelly Jane Sergeant, Ann Marie Saunders, and Andy Rushman. The result was an evening of good entertainment at remarkably modest cost.