Erring on the ridiculous, Raising Martha is a new satirical play by radio writer David Spicer on animal rights activism, familial greed and cannabis with a lead actor who looks curiously like Jeremy Corbyn. A group of vegans have dug up the bones of the mother of a family who run a frog farm. The frog farm has actually diversified into producing ‘Toad’ – a curious form of weed adding substance from toads to the cannabis.
Both groups – the activists and farming family – are totally dysfunctional. They’re tied together by a niece of the frog farmers – Gerry and Roger – who’s dating one of the activists. She turns out to be the cornerstone of the plot in more ways that one.
Rebecca Gower’s design transforms the top level of the stage into a dug-up grave that overshadows an underground conservatory full of cannabis plants and sparse room with a leather sofa. Gerry’s bunker is dimly lit (by Elliot Griggs) and the heavy doors booby trapped to keep out insiders from which hilarity ensues. Purple neon tube lighting frames the space above the set and, together with startling blackouts, the design creates a dark and secretive aura for the piece.
It’s a funny production. Funny, but not hilarious. Director Michael Fentiman has given plenty of time to clowning, slapstick and over the top declarations. Nearly everyone had 50s posh middle class accents in the vogue of traditional farce. I laughed at individual moments but the text was trying to be hilarious EVERY.SINGLE.SECOND. It was basically impossible to keep up and lots of the wit in the dialogue was lost in all of the absurdity.
The comedy wasn’t clean enough and the plot not guessable enough to keep me compelled by the story. In fact, in a piece that poses to tackle some pretty big issues, I don’t really know what the point was. It seemed just to be taking every cheap opportunity to poke fun at everyone and anyone. I mean, fair enough, to some extent. Except the story wasn’t good enough to just play it for laughs.
That aside, there are some excellent performances by Stephen Corbyn Boxer as the hallucinating Gerry and Julian Bleach as his grandiose brother. Tom Bennett and Joel Fry have an admirable quality, as our pair of animal activists, to give us pretty much anything for a laugh including the wearing of frog masks and a having fist fight in just their pants.
The best thing about my evening was hanging out with my friend drinking hot chocolate and spotting Douglas Booth in the audience.
Raising Martha is at the Park Theatre until 11 February 2017. Book tickets on the Park Theatre website.
Photo: Darren Bell