Thurs 14th July - Sat 16th July & Tues 19th July - Sat 23rd July 1994
Directed by Jacquie Penrose
Mismanaged lust - mistaken identity - dropped trousers...'Habeas Corpus' has all the ingredients of a classic farce, spiced with the warmth and humanity of Alan Bennett's razor-sharp wit.
And this is a second helping - a revival of the first ever production by The Bench at the Old Town Hall Arts Centre, part of the 25th Anniversary Celebration.
Habeas Corpus was first performed at the Lyric Theatre in London on 10 May 1973, with Alec Guinness and Margaret Courtenay in the lead roles. Bennett's first play, written in 1973, it is a comedy set in Brighton in the 1960s where the lust and longing of the permissive society has well and truly taken hold of the apparently respectable Wicksteed family.
The aging Dr. Arthur Wicksteed pursues his nubile patient, Felicity Rumpers. Wicksteed's wife Muriel lusts after the charming head of the BMA, Sir Percy Shorter. Shorter as well as being Wicksteed's old rival, turns out to be Felicity's father - the result of an under-the-table liaison during an air-raid with Lady Rumpers, her mother. Meanwhile, Wicksteed's spinster-sister Connie, ashamed of her flat-chestedness, has schemes of her own. Like some saucy Magill seaside postcard as retouched by Magritte, or an end-of-the-pier romp reorganised by Orton, the piece shows how a collection of stock types from Hove find themselves propelled into the permissive society with the arrival of a false-breast fitter from Leatherhead. Identities are mistaken, the wrong knockers admiringly fondled, and libidos burst out of enforced hibernation.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. It was staged as part of the Bench Theatre's 25th Anniversary celebrations held that year.
The company had staged this play for the first time in 1977 at Havant Arts Centre, the first of the Bench Theatre plays to be staged at their new home.
|Dr Arthur Wicksteed||David Penrose|
|Muriel Wicksteed||Ingrid Corrigan|
|Dennis Wicksteed||Neil Kendall|
|Connie Wicksteed||Alyse Ashton|
|Canon Throbbing||John Batstone|
|Felicity Rumpers||Sara Evans|
|Delia, Lady Rumpers||Sally Hartley|
|Sir Percy Shorter||John O'Hanlon|
|Mr Purdue||Tim Taylor|
|Mrs Swabb||Jude Salmon|
|Stage Manager||Lindy Nettleton|
|Handbill Design||Pete Woodward|
|Set Construction||Tim Taylor|
|Front of House||Sally Hartley|
|Rehearsal Understudy |
to almost everybody
Farces, particularly classic British farces, can often be somewhat cruel affairs, driven often by fear and dislike. But Alan Bennett's glorious romp is not fearful - it celebrates human weakness, enjoys the silliness of which we are all capable, and looks coolly at the inescapable fact that life is fatal.
In the best traditions of farce it employs archetypes that go all the way back to the Roman Plautus - the middle-aged Malcontent - the voracious wife - the buxom wench - the drippy love-lorn youth - the strutting cockerel - and the crafty servant who manipulates them all - and observes them all with a sharp but forgiving eye.
Presented in a simple fluid style that preserves the dash of farce while avoiding the clutter of naturalism it remains as fresh and funny as it did when written more than 20 years ago.
Unrequited lust, mistaken identity, dropped trousers - there's even a sex-obsessed vicar called Canon Throbbing for goodness sake. Habeas Corpus puts us slap bang in the middle of classic British farce territory with the usual round-up of suspects: lecherous husband, buxom wench, voracious wife, mousey spinster, and artificial breast fitter. The fast-moving plot includes the doctor who touches up his patient and the tradesman who ends up being seduced - plenty of "Where's your trousers?" and "More tea, vicar?"
But this being an Alan Bennett play, there is so much more. For a start the conventional sitcom drawing room set is dumped in favour of a plain stage, making everything so much slicker. Then there's the sparkling dialogue and brilliant characterisation, so sharp and closely-observed you want to list in slow motion to take it all in. And theres a surreal edge. Bennett enables the characters to step out of the farce and comment on their situation, giving it almost an air of parody.
Wonderful stuff, then, and well performed by Bench Theatre which has revived this, its first show at the Old Town Hall, to celebrate its 25th Anniversary. Marvellous ensemble playing and a remorselessly fast pace make this a cracking romp, with Jacquie Penrose deservedly taking the directorial plaudits.
The News, 15th July 1994