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January 2012
Natural Causes by Eric Chappell

By Jon Moreno - Friday, January 27, 2012
(reproduced by kind permission of
the Isle of Wight County Press)

WHEN I knew I would be watching the black farce, Natural Causes, at Cowes’s Trinity Theatre, I expected a classic, knowing it was penned by Eric Chappell, who created one of my all-time favourite TV comedies, Rising Damp.

However, this was a piece of theatre that did not really deliver as either farce or thriller as perhaps the writer intended, although I fully commend the abilities of the Cowes Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society cast with their opening night performance of it.

The majority of the acting was outstanding throughout.

This slightly macabre story is set around a bottle of deadly poison, which 'consultant’-cum-suicide merchant, Vincent (Steven Jon), attempts to sell to writer and philandering husband Walter Bryce (Mike Santer) to offer to Celia (Carolyn Ferguson), his neurotic wife who reiterates a desire to kill herself.

But things take a turn for the strange by the time Walter’s scheming secretary and mistress, Angie (Chris Giles), and hapless Samaritan, Withers (George Webster), have their say.

Steven Jon’s performance was memorably menacing, yet likeable, as the Mr Fixit from Exodus, a company known only by word of mouth. He threw himself into the role admirably and held the show together.

Walter employs him to bump off Celia — who has talked of committing suicide for years without getting round to doing it — so he can carry on his affair with Angie unhindered.

With the arrival of Withers, mistaken identities continue and poison is almost administered to all but Celia in error, until the confusion eventually resolves itself. Later, it becomes a tale of assisted suicide, which is botched, and Vincent, in a great twist of irony, poisons himself by mistake.

The rubber plant, which got progressively sicker with each scene as poison-spiked drinks got poured into it, was an amusing inclusion in the programme’s dramatis personae.

I am not sure if it was Chappell’s subtle script, the pace, the comic timing or combinations of the three, but the play, at times, seemed to drag.

In general, director Dinah Bowman did a fine job on this play but it was certainly not as funny as she described it to be in her programme notes.