CHRISTOPHER SMITH Assembly House, Norwich


> Assembly House, Norwich

A coffin stands ominously on a trestle. Wreaths and purple drapes send out a message. The audience sits around on all four sides, like mourners.

But unease soon gives way to laughter as the Great Hall Players in John Bury's production of Joe Orton's odd play explore a strange cat's cradle of improbabilities.

Ghoulishness spices up the giggles. Good taste goes by the board. Nothing is sacred, least of all piety, as the nurse sets out to ensure the widowers' inheritance won't go begging. Complications pile up, and gags come fast with some oddly twisted characterisations.

The best of them is Tony Brown's Truscott. A pocket-sized sleuth, he borrows mannerisms from Sherlock Holmes and masquerades as a water board official, tapping deep reserves of self importance. Then he puts the boot in with relish and professional expertise.

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Julie Barker as the nurse with an eye for the main chance, is inventive, with a most convincing Irish accent David Hare is hardly less persuasive, with the short fuse that fits his role.

Because the audience is so close, we see every nuance and almost we can peer into the coffin. Now, just what is in there? Is it what we think? What does it all add up to? How much?

We need to watch until the end if we want to see where the loot is finally going.

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