St Peter’s Hill Players paid tribute to their patron Eric Chappell, who sadly died three weeks ago, with three performances of his 2011 comedy play ‘Wife After Death’ at the Guildhall Arts Center theater last week.
The plot centers around the death of a comedy actor called Dave Thursby and the revelations that come to light at his funeral, and again several weeks later when those closest to him congregate again to scatter his ashes – and, boy, did they get scattered!
Act One begins with Dave lying in state in his living room, resplendent in his ‘lucky blue suit’, with his widow Laura (Rachel Armitage) bedecked in black, albeit with a gaping cleavage.
Showing their respects are Dave’s comedy script writer Harvey Barrett, played with gusto by Jim Smee, a character that Eric Chappell must surely have achieved imbuing with all the traits inherent in the breed, and his long suffering wife Vi (Jacqueline Dowse).
Despite claiming to be Dave’s best friend, Harvey shows more disrespect to the dead than respect; and the same goes for the living, with wife I saw baring the brunt of his wit and candour of him.
Harvey reveals a secret to Vi – that Dave had been having an affair with Jane (Karen Willoughby), the wife of the deceased’s agent Kevin Prewitt.
Played by Gus Sparrow, Kevin had the audience in stitches before he had even uttered a word, entering stage looking like a cross between Lurch, from The Addams Family, and an anaemic extra from The Blues Brothers. Kevin also claims to have a secret relating to Dave of which widow Laura is unaware.
Jane points out a mystery woman who has arrived for the funeral. Also dressed in black and with a plunging neckline, Kay claims to be Dave’s former wife, says she was still seeing him, and offers a raft of revelations pertaining to her earlier life.
She says they met at Cromer when she was in the chorus line and his stage name was Fred Freak. She says he stole his act from him and killed his originator, that he set his father on fire, and that he ran off after she had fallen pregnant.
Kay had caught up with Dave and forced him to pay maintenance – and now she wants her fair share of his estate.
She also shines a light on the affair between Dave and Kevin’s wife Jane, mainly centered around weekly shenanigans in a stationery cupboard.
Kay and widow Laura meet for the first time and ironically seem to get on like a house on fire.
In Act Two, with the funeral over, the protagonists reconvene three weeks later at the house for the dispersal of Dave’s ashes.
Widow Laura is distraught that Dave had died just weeks before he was to have been knighted in the New Year Honors List, herself missing out on becoming Lady Laura Thursby.
Kay then reveals to Laura that she had married Dave first and that they had never divorced. Therefore Dave was a bigamist and Laura is a ‘bigamee’. To add insult to injury, Dave has left everything in his will from him to Kay.
Affronted, Laura throws Dave’s ashes over Kay, although Kevin is also in the firing line and gets a faceful to add to his already ashen visage.
An argument between Jane and cuckolded husband Kevin ends with him once again being showered with Dave’s charred mortal remains (or was it more like a mixed grill?).
The revelations continue with Laura finding out about Dave and Jane’s tryst.
Laura then announces that Dave had been carrying on with Harvey’s wife Vi (pull up two chairs and sit down), much to the script writer’s amazement.
Laura shocks him further by telling him that Dave resents Harvey, he hated him and thought him flirtatious with Laura – and that was the only reason that Dave had an affair with Vi.
All the characters are left with the feeling that none of them ever really knew Dave – to quote Harvey: “Do we ever know anyone?”
‘Wife After Death’ was directed by Dawn and Gary Cadwallader, and produced by Tony Hine. Stage manager and prompt was Briony Sparrow, with props by Les Sparrow. The set was designed and built by Martin Brewin and Tom McKay.
+ St Peter’s Hill Players’ next production will be comedy thriller ‘The Ghost Train’, written by Arnold Ridley, from October 13 to 15.