An Experiment with an Air Pump

Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Human bones found buried at a house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne hint at a mysterious 200-year-old story of body-snatching, murder, seduction, and various other assorted scientific shenanigans - all strictly in the interests of research, of course.

But is the moral ground of modern scientists any firmer than that occupied by their predecessors of two centuries ago? Does our growing knowledge of genetics truly benefit the foetus aborted on the off-chance that it might develop Alzheimer's Disease in 70 years' time?

Or are the real winners the big insurance companies, potentially armed with a deadly knowledge that enables them to discriminate against those who need cover the most?

Shelagh Stephenson's gripping, thought-provoking and darkly humorous detective story covers a 200-year time span. Despite its mouthful of a title this is a brilliant play, wonderfully performed by an outstanding Maddermarket cast whose members double up to bridge the gap of two centuries with ease.

With his mobile features, rolling eyes and immaculate timing Noel Jones wrings every last ounce of comedy from his twin role as the 19th century physician Joseph Fenwick, and the redundant English lecturer Tom.

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Mel Sessions is outstanding as his frequently long-suffering partner, shaking off the household drudgery of 1799 to portray an eminent genetic research scientist in her 20th century guise.

Jo Sessions produces a moving performance as the servant Isobel, who falls prey to the evil machinations of the physician Thomas Armstrong, played by Max Rudd - who doubles up to provide several highly entertaining comic turns as Phil, the philosophical Geordie builder.

Director Elva Pryal's impressive cast list is completed by Natasha Purwin and Emma Roberts, who as Fenwick's squabbling daughters lack only a bathful of mud to make their wrestling encounters complete; and by Henry White, who shines as the virtuous physician Roget, horrified by the immoral antics of Armstrong.

t The play continues until November 24.

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