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Canoeing For Beginners at The Customs House, South Shields

IN THEIR neat living room in South Tyneside, Beryl and Frank are discussing the next part of a scheme that will take them to Cuba and a life of sun and swimming pools – funded by a fraudulent life insurance claim.

IN THEIR neat living room in South Tyneside, Beryl and Frank are discussing the next part of a scheme that will take them to Cuba and a life of sun and swimming pools – funded by a fraudulent life insurance claim.

Canoeist Frank – missing, presumed dead at sea – is now keeping a low (well, lowish) profile.

Whenever daughter Carol or son Keith pop round, Frank pops out the back. They aren’t in on the plot, you see.

You’d think this was pretty far-fetched, only we have all heard about the Darwins, the real-life couple who dreamed up a similar ruse. They are both in prison now but it so nearly worked.

They were the starting point for Mike Yeaman’s enjoyable comedy but you will soon forget about the Darwins and focus on the Taylors.

Pat Dunn is Beryl, ostensibly your homely middle-aged housewife but in reality Lady Macbeth to her husband’s dithering Thane of Cawdor.

David Whitaker is Frank, the quivering spouse and partner-in-crime, who suffers from panic attacks and definitely needs to screw his courage to the sticking place.

“It’s weird being a ghost in your own home,” he whines.

Gary Kitching is nerdish Keith, a health and safety officer whose marriage is breaking up. Laura Norton is Carol, tanning parlour boss and budding entrepreneur.

Chris Connel, he of the masterful comic timing and booming voice, crops up in two guises but his role can be summarised as the air of suspicion.

When all the characters turn up in Cuba, an element of Whitehall farce enters the proceedings. There’s even a trousers gag.

But the serious point hovers above the laughter. How could any parents inflict false grief on their own children?

Canoeing For Beginners, directed by Helen Ferguson, marks Mike Yeaman out as a serious writing talent.

It’s a pity the play couldn’t have had a longer run but there are performances today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

David Whetstone

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