Evelyn Farrant, the scheming actor at the centre of Gerald Moon’s 1983 play Corpse!, would like to believe that he is the hero of a Shakespearean tragedy. But he’s marooned instead in a comedy of mistaken identities, slamming trapdoors and fake dead bodies.
In 1936, on the evening of Edward VIII’s abdication speech, Evelyn (Tom York) sets in motion a deviously theatrical plan to murder his estranged twin, claim his identity, and acquire his wealth. Between the amiable pestering of his landlady Mrs McGee (Felicity Duncan), he recruits the retired Major Powell (Paul Kemp) as his hitman and gives him painstaking instructions.
As shots get fired, however, Powell discovers that Evelyn’s stratagem is not as simple as it first appears. So ensues a series of farcical revelations and reversals, delivered with a measure of camp by Clive Brill’s animated production.
The contrasts between the twins’ lives are made colourfully clear in Beth Colley’s revolving set of two interiors. Its modest scale ends up contributing to the play’s ludicrous atmosphere. Neil Gordon’s period costumes help highlight Evelyn’s penchant for over-elaborate trickery, as when he dons a dress to steal food from Fortnum and Mason.
Making his stage debut, York leads a fine cast and pleasingly differentiates the two brothers, though his take on Rupert is significantly more grounded. Capturing the play’s zaniness, Kemp’s performance as the breathlessly confused Powell becomes the highlight of the evening.
This old-fashioned, oddly slow-paced comedy is often encumbered with expository talk, but its mischievous spirit is appealing.