War never seems very far away from the thoughts at Glasgow's Cltizens' Theatre at the moment. Last month's Heartbreak House was punctuated by soldiers lrom the First World War crossing the set. Arsenic and Old Lace seems set to explore again the curious monnallty ol lite on the peripheries oi war. Like Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, the most successful British play oi the Second World War (which the Cltz revived last season) Arsenic and Old Lace makes a hilarious comedy about death in domestic situations at a time when the reality at state carnage was already preoccupying public opinion.
it was the lirst and only hit ior New York-bom teacher, Joseph Otto liesselrlng and clocked up lrom early 1941 1,444 perlonnances on Broadway and 1,332 at the Strand Theatre in London.
Kesselring believed lingering anti-German sentiment contributed to his later works being overlooked, but a more popular hypothesis was that the play— originally called Bodies in Our Cellar- had been written as a straight thriller and that the show's producers, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, had been so ilabbergasted by its ridiculousness they turned it into a full-blown comedy.
Whoever it owes it to, its liippant attitude to old-age and death— sweet old ladies poisoning lonely old men, their demented brother digging the Panama Canal in the cellar, and a psychopathic nephew torturing and killing for pleasure and prollt- caught the imagination oi the American public at the time agonislng over whetherto become involved in the ‘European’ war.
Jack Warner, boss oi Warner Brothers, was quick to snap up the lilm rights-which included the then standard clause that no lilm made could be screened until the play linlshed its New York run. Frank Capra, at the peak oi his power and lame as a Hollywood director, took only the lirst act to decide it was exactly what he was looking lor tor his next blockbuster.
Within two months Capra had talked Jack Warner into letting him make it, signed up most oi the key cast from the play- though bringing in the big box-oillce draw and larceur supreme Cary Grant in place at Allyn Jossiyn as the sane nephew, Mortimer- and begun shooting. Ten weeks later it was linished, edited and ready lor release.
Capra's reputation as an idealist and people's champion as well as a consistently entertaining lilm-maker— as shown by hits like it Happened One Night, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take it With You and Mr Smith Goes to Washington — led to critics linding a good deal more depth and meaning in his lilm than they had in the original play. Butior Capra it was ‘no great social document to save the world . . . just good old-lashloned theatre'. He had just signed up as a $2,500 a year Major to head US wartime lilm production — he was sworn in the day alter Pearl Harbour
The Battle lor Laughs
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Arsenic and Old Lace: the Film "
and his lirst action was to grant himsell six weeks leave to complete Arsenic and Old Lace - and with a $40,000 a year lilestyle to support his aim was simply to ‘make a cheap lilm tor a last buck’ to keep his lamlly going.
The play’s phenomenal run proved to be Capra's undoing. It was two years belore it closed, and when his screen version could linaily be released all but a traction ol his lirst percentage cheque was swallowed up by accumulated taxes.
Unsatisfactory as it proved from a linanclal point ol view, Arsenic and Old
Lace is on a par with Capra’s llnest and lunnlest work—the pertect example oi a cinema adaptation every bit as
vivacious and witty as the original play.
There’s a rare - and tree — chance to see the Capra classic on a big screen on Saturday 5 October at the Pleasance Theatre, 60 The Pleasance, Edinburgh, when Edinburgh Filmsoc have an open screening to introduce their new season tilms.
The Citizens’ production gets under way on 4 October and runs through to 2 November at7.30pm. (Ouentln Cooper).
McGrath) focusses on the major question of how society should deal with prisoners. Billy McColl plays Boyle and the production is co—directed by Andy Arnold and Ian Wooldridge and designed by Colin MacNeil (see Feature).
0 THEATRE WORKSHOP 34 Hamilton Place, 226 5425. Box office Mon—Sat 9.30am—5.30pm. Bar. Cafe. [D]
The Cry oi Spain 9-12 Oct 8pm. £2.50 (£2). Winged Horse Productions’ presentation of Robin Munro‘s ‘requiem‘ for the Spanish Civil War (see Touring).
Tom Paine leel 17—19 Oct 8pm. £3 (£1.50). Modern Times in Vince Foxall's new play, a celebration of Tom Paine, author of The Rights of Man and an inspiration to freedom fighters through the ages. The production. directed by John Turner, is presented as a comic ‘road movie’ using visual images, puppetry and music.
0 TRAVERSE 112 West Bow, 226 2633. Box office Tues—Sat 10am-9pm. Sun 12.30—9pm. Bar. Rest.
The Death 01 Elias Sawney 10 Oct — 3 Nov 8pm. £4.50. Members £3. Guests £4. Premiere of a new play from the promising young Scottish playwright Peter Arnott; a comic (but serious) odyssey through conventions of death throughout the ages, from the fourteenth century to the present day. Bernard Docherty plays Elias, evading death through the centuries, and Stephen Unwin directs. (See panel). First in-house production under the new young artistic director, Jenny Killick. Playreading: The Balloon Ascent 13 Oct 5.30pm. £1 .25 (75p). First in the Autumn Playreading Residency of the Edinburgh Playwrights’ Workshop: reading and discussion of a play by Simon Evans.
0 ORUHTON THEATRE Musselburgh, 665 2240. Box office Mon—Sat 10am-8pm. Bar.
Blood Brothers Until 5 Oct.
£1 .50—£3.75 depending on night and concs. Brunton Theatre Company in Willy Russell‘s successful comedy. The Death at Humpty Oumpty 8—12 Oct. Ticket prices as above. Live Theatre Company from Newcastle in the Scottish premiere of a play by Graham Reid, from Northern Ireland. Set in Northern Ireland, it tells how those closest to a man cope when he is crippled by the violence. A Midsummer Night’s Dream 16—26 Oct. Ticket prices as above. Shakespeare‘s comedy presented by Brunton Theatre Company in Regency style.
0 Life of Galileo The Scottish Theatre Company begin their new touring production of Brecht’s marvellous play portraying the great scientist in a conﬂict between science and religion, optimism and scepticism, reason, ideals and compromise. Translated by Charles Laughton, this production is directed by Peter Dews, who directed the STC’s Waiting for Godot earlier this year, and Tom Fleming, artistic director of the company, plays Galileo himself. Stirling MacRobert Centre, 8—12 Oct.
The List 4— 1 7 October 11