Natural Causes

All Saints Dramatic Society  Corpus Christi Parish Centre, Boscombe Jill Richmond

14 September 2023

If I had read the synopsis for Eric Chappell’s Natural Causes before I had arrived, I might have been somewhat sceptical if I would enjoy this black comedy. I would have been wrong. Despite the story being based around the services of a professional suicide merchant, Vincent, the accessible comedy and depth of characters demonstrate not only the great talent that Eric Chappell was but that even a topic such as suicide, that affects so many of our lives, can be removed completely from reality to provide a lot of laughs in this mystery of will anyone, other than the rubber plant, actually drink the poison?

The majority of the five-hander cast are relatively new to the stage, something that is fantastic to see where some groups can be impenetrable until you’ve done your time. Each member of the cast brings something to the performance and the Directors, Pete Nunan and Mark Andrews, do a brilliant job of manoeuvring the audience’s attention around the well-designed set and in doing so maximise the comedy.

The action takes place through four scenes in the study of Walter Bryce. Walter (Sam Sheppard), played with the reassuring stage presence usually seen in an experienced actor, employs the services of Vincent (Mikey Whitehead) to end his neurotic wife Celia’s life. Mikey Whitehead, a natural comic, provides us with a paradoxically warm and likeable character, for a suicide merchant, with a nice interpretation of the role allowing him to showcase his good acting skills. Celia, played with lovely physical comedy by Georgie Drake, appears to have her own agenda, as does Angie, Walter’s secretary, performed with beautiful diction and poise (and the best shoes of the night!) by Katie Furniss. Richard Carnell takes the cast to five, performing Withers the Samaritan perfectly, providing some of the biggest laughs of the night. His stage presence, acting and comedy is simply that of a professional and his jumper is worth looking out for, not that you’ll miss it!

The energy between the cast is good and they are respectful of one another’s stage space with nobody attempting to steal the limelight. There were occasional scenes on opening night, particularly in Act 2, where lines were forgotten and the action would completely freeze. It didn’t affect my enjoyment, but it did affect the pace and I hope that with opening night nerves over the cast will have the confidence to accept these moments happen and to just to keep it moving if it happens again and not let their brilliant energy dip.

From my arrival at The Corpus Christi Hall, I was struck by how welcoming and warm ASDS are and how much of a solid and supportive following they had in their audience on opening night. The whole production team did a brilliant job and I recommend going to one of ASDS’s two remaining performances of Natural Causes; the audience all left the evening smiling, me included, and I will keep my eyes peeled for future ASDS performances.

Performances continue Friday 15 and Saturday 16 September – curtain up at 7:30 pm with refreshments and a raffle at the interval.