Arsenic and Old Lace

Written by Joseph Kesselring

Thurs 19th April - Sat 21st April & Tues 24th April - Sat 28th April 2001

Directed by Mark Wakeman

Mortimer Brewster is a happy man - the woman of his dreams and his two aunts dote on him. One night he discovered that one member of his family thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, another is a gangster on the run and his sweet aunts are anything but...

The Bench deliver the hilarious comedy made famous by the film starring Cary Grant.

AuthorJoseph Kesselring

Joseph Otto Kesselring (1902 - 1967)

Kesselring was an American playwright known best for his play 'Arsenic and Old Lace'.He was born in New York City to a family of German descent. The son of a surgeon, Kesselring spent much of his life in and around the theatre. In 1922, at the age of 20, he began teaching vocal music and directed stage productions at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. After two years of teaching, Kesselring left teaching and returned to the stage, working for two years with an amateur theatrical group in Niagara, New York. He began working as a freelance playwright in 1933, completing 12 original plays, of which four were produced on Broadway: 'Wisdom in Women', 'Arsenic and Old Lace', 'Four Twelves are 48' and 'Mother of that Wisdom'. In 1980, the National Arts Club created the Joseph Kesselring Prize for up-and-coming playwrights, funded by Kesselring's widow, Charlotte.

PlayArsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace was written in 1939 and originally entitled "Bodies in Our Cellar." It has become best known through the film adaptation starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra. The play was directed by Bretaigne Windust, and opened on 10 January 1941. On 25 September 1943, the play moved to the Hudson Theater. It closed there on 17 June 1944 having played 1,444 performances.

The play opens with the two Brewster sisters, Martha and Abby, who have lived in their father's house in Brooklyn all of their lives and now as elderly ladies share it with their nephew Teddy. The two fondly tolerate Teddy's firm belief that he is President Roosevelt, even to the extent of allowing him to dig the Panama Canal in their Cellar. Their domestic bliss is enhanced by the increasingly regular visits of Teddy's brother Mortimer as Mortimer's grows ever more fond of Elaine Harper, who lives next door with her father. Mortimer is very fond of his aunts, and fonder still of Elaine and it seems that these domestic arrangements will lead to the inevitable happy conclusion. But when Mortimer makes a disturbing discovery the path to a happy ending becomes anything but clear.

The Bench Production

Arsenic and Old Lace poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Abby BrewsterIngrid Corrigan
The Rev Dr HarperTim Taylor
Teddy BrewsterAndy Rees
Officer BrophyWill Chalmers
Officer KleinRichard Le Moignan
Martha BrewsterSue Dawes
Elaine HarperRobin Hall
Mortimer BrewsterNeil Kendall
Mr GibbsJohn Blackmore
Dr EinsteinDavid Hill
Officer O'HaraPaul Davies
Lieutenant RooneyMike Hickman
Mr WitherspoonJohn Batstone


DirectorMark Wakeman
Assistant DirectorPaul Millington
Stage ManagerLiam Penny
Assistant Stage ManagersJulia Jeram
Claire Kendall
Lighting DesignDamon Wakelin
Lighting OperatorNathan Chapman
Set ConstructionSimon Murray
ArtworkDavid Penrose
Make UpCat Ellis
PhotographsJohn Plimmer
Publicity DesignNathan Chapman
Front of HouseZoë Corrigan

Director's Notes

After 'The Office Party, it was "never again"; after 'The Importance of Being Earnest' it was "no more period pieces". After the period piece 'Charley's Aunt' it was "no more large sets". So now I find myself directing 'Arsenic and Old Lace' and there are a whole bunch of things about this play that I can say never again about!

As usual I haven't so much notes, as reasons why... Why choose 'Arsenic and Old Lace to perform? Why Not? The film has been a firm favourite of mine since my youth, it's very funny and challenging to do and also my friend Janet Simpson encouraged me. So here it is Janet, just for you. Also the humour of this play is a lot blacker than some I've attempted to work on which does make a difference. If you were to just recite the plot of this play to a bystander they would be forgiven for thinking that you had watched a gripping murder mystery thriller! But instead it's all wild madcap fun and farce. As a director you can't ask for a better challenge than that and hopefully it will make a treat for you, the audience to watch.

This is just a chance to say thank you to my cast and crew. To all the actors who have worked with me before (see, it doesn't get any better!), to all all those who hadn't worked with me before (you can see what the others were going on about now!) and to my wonderful backstage helpers (see, it wasn't that bad was it?).

Also than you for coming to see the play, the Bench only exists because you come and see us. If you didn't come then we would go out of business and I think that would be a shame so please give a thought to joining our backbencher scheme and ensuring that we will still be here to continue to (hopefully) entertain you.

Mark Wakeman


The NewsMike Allen

Kendall as riveting as red-faced theatre critic

Let's hear it for the critic - even if writer Joseph Kesselring does have a fair old swipe at the breed in his classic farce. More precisely, let's hear it for Neil Kendall, the actor who plays the theatre critic in Bench Theatre's production. Kendall is riveting from first to last as the man who discovers his 'sweet, charming, hospitable' old aunts poison lonely men with home-made elderberry wine for charity and bury them in the cellar. As the character gets deeper and deeper in an ocean of conspiracy, the actor's face becomes ruddier than the Red Sea - but his comic timing and mastery of the double-take remain supreme.

Alan Welton gives a memorably menacing performance as the crooked brother and a sing-song surgeon. Ingrid Corrigan and Sue Dawes seemed unsure of their lines last night and lacked certainty in the American accent, but they capture the aunts' essential whimsical nature well. Once their confidence grows, the production will gain the early pace it needs and show the full merit of Mark Wakeman's spirited direction. Until April 28.

The News, 20th April 2001

Production Photographs