Lancashire theatre hosts an Alan Bennett classic that lifts the spirits with romance

Ron Ellis reviews a romantic farce that was executed with aplomb...

Thursday, 30th September 2021, 4:03 pm
The Habeas Corpus show

A classic play, extremely well performed and an ideal vehicle to welcome the audience back into the theatre.

Set in the Permissive Sixties, the days of the sexual revolution, Habeas Corpus bordered on farce (several men lose their trousers), had a semblance of pantomime (although few women got their bosoms felt in Cinderella) and featured more rhyming couplets than you’d hear on a Greek poetry evening.

Mark Kendall played Dr, Wickstead, a lecherous GP, who also chatted to the audience in between his designs on Felicity (Sarah Seed) who consults him about her pregnancy.

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Felicity has agreed to marry his son, Dennis (Ben Percival) who has assured her he has only three months to live, which is all she could stand of him anyway.

Meanwhile, another of the doctor’s patients was busy trying to hang himself in the background.

Chris Turner as Sir Percy Shorter also has designs on Felicity, little knowing she is actually his daughter, the result of a wartime liaison in an air-raid shelter with her mother, Lady Rumpers (Debbie Taylor).

Meanwhile, Constance (Melanie Murphy), the doctor’s sister, is concerned about her flat chest so she orders a pair of false breasts.

The company salesman, Mr. Shanks (Alan Freeman) arrives to fit them but she mistakes his efforts for a welcome grope and promptly relieves him of his trousers to the disappointment of the vicar, Canon Throbbing (Paul Sylvester), who has carried a torch for her for years.

Carole Unitt played Muriel Wickstaff, the doctor’s wife, who anxious for a lover of her own, sets her sights on Sir Percy, losing several garments in the process.

Carol Caine, as Mrs. Swabb the cleaner acted as commentator, explaining what was happening, just in case the audience were getting confused. As if!

The result of all this was total confusion, lots of belly laughs and remarkably good acting. Not a line was missed in the whole performance. Director, Dennis Yardley, must have had a Herculean task and deserves a medal.

I do wonder though, would Alan Bennett have ever got this play off the ground had he written it today in the current moral climate?