Arsenic And Old Lace

Comedy by Joseph Kesselring. Take two sweet old aunts with a deadly idea of charity, two murderers on the run (one who looks like Boris Karloff and one called Dr Einstein!), an uncle who believes he's the President and a soon-to-be-wed nephew who doesn't believe in marriage and you have all the ingredients for a madcap evening with Brooklyn's most unusual residents - The Brewsters!

1942: West End London Premiere with Lilian Braithwaite and Mary Jerrold

1966: 1st West End London Revival with Sybil Thorndike and Athene Seyley

1977: 2nd West End London Revival with Barbara Mullen and Joyce Heron

2003: 3rd West End London Revival with Thelma Barlow and Marcia Warren


1942: West End London Premiere with Lilian Braithwaite and Mary Jerrold

Opened 23 December 1942 (no previews), Closed 2 March 1946 at the Strand Theatre (now Novello Theatre)
Returned 8 April 1946, Closed 18 May 1946 at the Cambridge Theatre

The original cast at the Strand Theatre featured Lilian Braithwaite as 'Abby Brewster', Mary Jerrold as 'Martha Brewster', Edmund Willard as 'Jonathan Brewster', Naunton Wayne as 'Mortimer Brewster', Martin Miller as 'Dr Einstein', Clarence Bigge as 'Rev Dr Harper', Cyril Smith as 'Officer O'Hara', E J Kennedy as 'Officer Klein', Eileen Bennett as 'Elaine Harper', Frank Pettingell as 'Teddy Brewster', Frank Tilton as 'Lieutenant Rooney', Fred Beck as 'Mr Gibbs', George Dillon as 'Officer Brophy', and Wilfred Caithness as 'Mr Witherspoon'.

The cast at the Cambridge Theatre featured Lilian Braithwaite as 'Abby Brewster', Mary Jerrold as 'Martha Brewster', Edmund Willard as 'Jonathan Brewster', Naunton Wayne as 'Mortimer Brewster', Martin Miller as 'Dr Einstein', Bryan Herbert as 'Officer O'Hara', Clarence Bigge as 'Rev Dr Harper', Frank Tilton as 'Lieutenant Rooney', George Dillon as 'Officer Brophy', George Manship as 'Officer Klein', Patricia Hicks as 'Elaine Harper', Raymond Rollett as 'Teddy Brewster', Walter Rignold as 'Mr Gibbs', and Wilfred Caithness as 'Mr Witherspoon'.

Directed by Marcel Varnel, with designs by Roger Furse.

This production played 1,337 performances at the Strand Theatre, and a futher 47 performances at the Cambridge Theatre, for a total run of 1,384 performances.

Immediately after closing at the Strand Theatre, the entire production including cast, played a one-week season at the Wimbledon Theatre. Due to public demand the show was brought back to London's West End to play a six-week 'farewell season' at the Cambridge Theatre.

It was while playing the role of 'Abby Brewster' in this production that Lilian Braithwaite became a Dame after she was awarded the DBE in New Year's Honours on 1 January 1943 for 'services to the stage.'

Lilian Braithwaite, Mary Jerrold, Edmund Willard, and Martin Miller played their roles for the entire run at both the Strand Theatre and the Cambridge Theatre, excluding holidays and illness. In addition, some twenty years later, in 1966, Martin Miller would again repeat his role as 'Dr Einstein' in the first West End revival at the Vaudeville Theatre.


1966: 1st West End London Revival with Sybil Thorndike and Athene Seyley

Opened 23 February 1966 (no previews), Closed 12 November 1966 at the Vaudeville Theatre

The cast featured Sybil Thorndike as 'Abby Brewster', Athene Seyley as 'Martha Brewster', Neil McCarthy as 'Jonathan Brewster', Richard Briers as 'Mortimer Brewster' (up to Saturday 20 August 1966), Derek Farr as 'Mortimer Brewster' (from Monday 22 August 1966), Martin Miller as 'Dr Einstein', Alec Ross as 'Lieutenant Rooney', David Andrews as 'Officer O'Hara' (up to Saturday 20 August 1966), Patrick Carter as 'Officer O'Hara' (from Monday 22 August 1966), Desmond Walter-Ellis as 'Teddy Brewster', Edward Waddy as 'Mr Gibbs', Fred Kitchen as 'Rev Dr Harper', George Roubicek as 'Officer Klein' (up to Saturday 20 August 1966), Alan Bennion as 'Officer Klein' (from Monday 22 August 1966), Julia Lockwood as 'Elaine Harper' (up to Saturday 20 August 1966), Muriel Pavlow as 'Elaine Harper' (from Monday 22 August 1966), Lewis Casson as 'Mr Witherspoon', and Tony Wall as 'Officer Brophy'.

Directed by Murray Mcdonald, with designs by Anthony Holland, and lighting by Michael Northen.

Prior to London's West End this production was presented, with the same cast, at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday 7 February to Saturday 12 February 1966; and Brighton Theatre Royal from Monday 14 February to Saturday 19 February 1966.

Martin Miller reprised his role as 'Dr Einstein' from the original 1942 to 1946 production at the Strand Theatre/Cambridge Theatre.


1977: 2nd West End London Revival with Barbara Mullen and Joyce Heron

Previewed 18 May 1977, Opened 19 May 1977, Closed 4 June 1977 at the Whitehall Theatre
Transferred 20 June 1977, Closed 12 November 1977 at the Westminster Theatre

The cast at the Whitehall Theatre and the Westminster Theatre featured Barbara Mullen as 'Abby Brewster', Joyce Heron as 'Martha Brewster', Jonathan Adams as 'Jonathan Brewster', Julian Holloway as 'Mortimer Brewster', Derek Royle as 'Dr Einstein', Alan Leith as 'Officer Klein', Barry J. Gordon as 'Mr Gibbs'/'Officer O'Hara', Brian Poyser as 'Teddy Brewster', Grahame Mallard as 'Officer Brophy', Lennard Pearce as 'Rev Dr Harper'/'Mr Witherspoon', Stan Pretty as 'Lieutenant Rooney', and Toria Fuller as 'Elaine Harper'.

Directed by Hugh Goldie, with designs by John Page, and lighting by Trevor Mitchell.

Prior to London's West End this production, with the same cast, embarked on an eight-week tour starting at Weston-super-Mare Playhouse Theatre from Monday 28 March to Saturday 2 April 1977; and including Hull New Theatre from Monday 4 April to Saturday 9 April 1977; Stirling MacRobert Centre from Monday 11 April to Saturday 16 April 1977; Inverness Eden Court Theatre from Monday 25 April to Saturday 30 April 1977; Aberdeen His Majesty's Theatre from Monday 2 May to Saturday 7 April 1977; Glasgow King's Theatre from Monday 9 May to Saturday 14 May 1977; and Darlington Civic Theatre from Monday 16 May to Saturday 21 May 1977.


2003: 3rd West End London Revival with Thelma Barlow and Marcia Warren

Previewed 14 February 2003, Opened 25 February 2003, Closed 31 May 2003 at the Strand Theatre (now Novello Theatre)

A major revival of Joseph Kesselring's comedy farce Arsenic And Old Lace in London starring Stephen Tompkinson and Michael Richards

The cast featured Thelma Barlow as 'Abby Brewster', Marcia Warren as 'Martha Brewster', Michael Richards as 'Jonathan Brewster', Stephen Tompkinson as 'Mortimer Brewster', Paul Rider as 'Dr. Einstein', Brian Poyser as 'Mr Gibbs'/'Mr Witherspoon', David Lyon as 'The Rev Dr Harper'/'Lieutenant Rooney', Ewen Cummins as 'Officer Brophy', Hattie Morahan as 'Elaine Harper', John Guerrasio as 'Officer O'Hara', Paul Cawley as 'Officer Klein', and Rupert Vansittart as 'Teddy Brewster'.

Directed by Matthew Francis with designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by Mai Soteriou and sound by Andy Pink.

Stephen Tompkinson is best known for his television work which includes Ballykissangel, Drop the Dead Donkey and Ted and Alice.

Michael Richards is best known for playing the role of 'Cosmo Kramer' in the hugely popular American television series Seinfeld.

Paul Rider's London theatre credits include the role of 'Ralph' in John Godber and Neil Sissons' revival of John Godber Bouncers at the Donmar Warehouse, an transfer to the Arts Theatre in 1986.

"For three frenetic hours this beautifully written 1941 farce unfolds in waves of black humour at its best. And what a cast. American Michael Richards - the comic genius who created Kramer in the classic US sitcom Seinfeld - does not disappoint as the Brewsters' prodigal son Jonathan who everyone wished had never returned after committing his own series of murders. Former Ballykissangel star Stephen Tompkinson's interaction with Jonathan and Elaine Harper (Hattie Morahan) is a delight. This was a fun night of West End theatre. And how appropriate that it was staged at The Strand (now The Novello) - the theatre where this play made its triumphant London debut way back in 1942." The Daily Mirror

"Joseph Kesselring's 1941 play, Arsenic and Old Lace, (which was also a classic movie) became famous during the war for its blend of zany, sick, American screwball humour. But comedy classics can become corpses, better remembered than revived... Seinfeld star Michael Richards shines as the manic face-ache and Paul Rider does a nifty Peter Lorre impression from the original film as his alcoholic surgeon. But aside from their scenes, this cumbersome, often tedious revival is too short on laughs. It leaves you marvelling at the gulf in audience tastes that has developed since it was written 60 years ago." The Daily Express

"At its best (which is not good), Agatha Christie should meet Dario Fo, an introduction Matthew Francis's sluggish, punishingly tedious revival fails to make. Thelma Barlow and Marcia Warren, both wonderful actresses, are marvellous as the two twee sisters of mercy, but they might just as well whistle in the wind. Stephen Tompkinson as Mortimer, the nephew who discovers his aunts' antics, mistakes farcical acting for swivelling eyeballs, sweating and silly walks; and Michael Richards squanders his talent, mugging madly in the Boris Karloff role. I swear I didn't laugh once." The Mail on Sunday

"I have never seen this famous old comedy warhorse before, so I cannot do a meticulous comparison in terms of textuality, action and free will, if you know what I mean, but I do know that even the most inane early-1940s American comedy can be done better than this. I have never seen so much ham acting on the same stage. Only Thelma Barlow and Marcia Warren, playing the genteel old Brooklyn biddies who poison lonely, elderly chaps out of sympathy, do what you would recognise as acting... The only thing that cheers you up is that there is a character who is mad and thinks he's the president of the United States." The Sunday Times

Arsenic And Old Lace in London previewed from 14 February 2003, opened on 25 February 2003 , and closed on 31 May 2003.