Natural Causes

Scaramouche Theatre Company  Forest Arts Centre, New Milton  Philip & Julie McStraw

28 April 2024


It’s unusual, though by no means unknown, to go to the theatre on a Sunday evening. Presumably customer surveys backed by inadequate box office receipts indicate that the theatre going public are generally reluctant to go out on a Sunday evening, when a night-in might seem to be the sensible thing to do. But some people definitely like to go to the theatre on Sunday evenings, as evidenced by the good turnout on this occasion. So well done to Forest Arts Centre and the intriguingly entitled Scaramouche Theatre Company for bucking the trend by giving us a Sunday evening performance of Natural Causes by the late Eric Chappell, one of the most prolific and popular British television sitcom writers. Probably his best-loved work is Rising Damp, which is still often aired on television. Natural Causes is of similar ilk, it first appeared on television in 1988 and has been regularly and successfully performed on stage since then.

The play is billed as a black comedy, which by definition deals with tragic or distressing subject matter in a humorous way. The subject matter here is euthanasia, which is definitely not a laughing matter, but the plot is essentially straight from the vaults of British farce and the audience is entertained by a situation that is highly exaggerated, improbable and of course very funny – to wit:

Vincent is from Exodus, a euthanasia group that assists people in suicide. But when he is invited to Walter Bryce’s country house to assist in the disposal of Walter’s depressive wife, Celia, he senses something is wrong. Why are the suicide notes typed and unsigned? What is the role of Walter’s attractive young secretary, Angie? Why has the Samaritan, Ms Withers, been sent for? Needless to say, all is revealed in the fullness of time and, without giving anything away, there is a surprising turn of events at the end to finish off the fun.

Much of the action centres around a bottle of lethal poison and a drinks trolley with a decanter full of an endless supply of sherry and glasses that are constantly being refilled and discarded into a wilting rubber plant. Yes, just the sort of thing to be expected and nothing that requires further explanation!

The lead roles of Vincent, Walter and Celia are well performed with skillful acting, demonstrating experience and enthusiasm. Alan Ponting’s accent and mannerisms, as Vincent, conjure up images of seedy Rigsby from Rising Damp, which is no bad thing as it is perfect for this part. Danny Lyons is absolutely convincing in his part of the cultured and vacillating Walter. So too is Andrea Cutler as Celia, veering from a bedraggled hopeless depressive to a lady of elegance and purpose, even if that purpose is to bring her life to an end!

Support is provided by Sophie Hills as alluring Angie and Lara Jones as the well-meaning but bumbling Samaritan, with the inspired name of ‘Withers’. Sophie is new to acting on stage and admitted to being a little nervous, but she needn’t have worried as she delivers a fine performance. Likewise, Lara gives a good account for herself.

Multi-tasking Director and dab hand Anne Ponting, and her backstage team, have delivered an enjoyable evening of entertainment, which was fully endorsed by the animated audience. We look forward to the next production by Scaramouche Theatre Company, which is planned for 2025. Anyone interested in joining the Company as actors or in other roles can contact Anne.

Natural Causes by Scaramouche Theatre Company is on at the Forest Arts Centre for 2 nights only, so, if you haven’t already booked, it’s too late to catch it here. But do watch out for their 2025 show.