This six-handed farcical Middle England ‘romp-com’ by David Spicer centres round the disinterred and disassembled skeleton of Martha ‘Mother’ Duffy. Her exhumation by animal rights (psycho)activists and comical bone dispersal leads to a series of (un)orchestrated calamitous events with territorial greed, weed and ultimately chicken feed in the mix. Hereditary, animal (‘the third emancipation: ‘slaves, women, frogs’) and human rights are all dissected in a familiar tale of familial feuding and fowl play.
Martha’s remains are dug up, reburied, then re-dug up by dogs; the bones are the clues, the trail followed by clownish Inspector Clout, a verbally dextrous Herculean Pierrot desperate for that big case who delivers the best lines: ‘civil liberties? We gave them up to protect them’ to bemoaning the state of ‘sandwiches today? Avocado, grape and rocket are just words between bread’ a dig at faddish vegetarianism, arguably how the meat industry wants it to be perceived.
Laird of this Toad Hall is Gerry, whose frog farming for vivisectionists acts as a smokescreen for his potent hybrid of cane toad gland-spittle marijuana which upon ingestion sees him receive numerous visitations from six-foot amphibians’ intent on cutting him open, repaying the barbarism.
In opposition with Gerry is financially strapped brother Roger, who eyes the prize/price of land so a psychological battle of wits ensues between them uncovering a mutual antipathy towards their exhumed Mother and revealing admissions of culpability.
At the heart of the grave-robbing is scheming Caro, granddaughter of Martha and the brains behind the plot to seize the land for a chicken farm, playing the bumbling ‘activists’ Jago (a.k.a. the less-radical sounding ‘Graham’) and Mark like a fiddle. This is expertly summarised when Roger threatens to boil the frogs, a metaphor for how often realisation comes too late (‘at boiling point’); oblivious to the obvious.
The cartoonish climax sees one character with all their eggs in one basket, the coup now a coop, all chickens coming home to roost, new income now poultry not paltry. This is a sharp satire on meat abstention, recreational drug use and extremism, especially how the term is knowingly deployed as articulated by Clout: ‘when protest turns into terrorism it becomes police budgetary policy’; it’s how you frame the blame.
‘Raising Martha’ is at the Park Theatre until 11th February.
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