Habeas Corpus

by Alan Bennett

Directed by John Field

April 22nd - 26th, 2003

The Tower Theatre performing Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate


Cast List

Arthur Wicksteed, a General Practitioner : John Cornwell
Muriel Wicksteed, his wife : Annie Connell
Dennis Wicksteed, their son : Stuart Denman
Constance Wicksteed, the doctor's sister : Lesley Bilton
Mrs Swabb, a cleaning lady : Celia Reynolds
Canon Throbbing, a celibate : Daniel Watson
Lady Rumpers, a white settler : Penny Tuerk
Felicity Rumpers, her daughter : Nikki Smith
Mr Shanks, a sales representative : Simon Bullock
Sir Percy Shorter, a leading light in the medical profession : Ian Recordon
Mr Purdue, a sick man : Henry Chester


Production Team

Director : John Field
Setting : Wendy Parry
Lighting : Stephen Ley
Sound : Laurence Tuerk, John Field and Ken Haines

Stage Manager : Laurence Tuerk
Piano : Jonathan Norris
Wardrobe : Sheila Burbidge and Celia Reynolds
Set Rigging : Claire Rice, Keith Hill, Alan Mackenzie
Technical Co-ordinator : Dorothy Wright
Lighting Operator : Nathalie Lake
Sound Operator : Jayne Lawrence

Review by Julia Hickman for Theatreworld Internet Magazine

Alan Bennett's 1970's comedy of sex starved and mammarialy challenged but otherwise perfectly normal residents of Hove is truly a farce and a half. This was the decade of No Sex Please, We're British, the heyday of Carry On ... and that film about the cheeky window cleaner if I remember rightly, child though I was at the time. As a young innocent, I did wonder why people got quite so exercised about sex and these films. Now that I am older and wiser I understand perfectly. Is that what 'wise' means? I always thought that wise was what King Solomon was and what the Oracle at Delphi was - but perhaps not.

The show starts unexpectedly but delightfully with a parade of all the characters, marching on stage in formation, in time to music, and greeting each other as well as the audience with nods and knowing smiles as they pass by. It is a parody of those relentlessly cheery 50's movies and is unashamedly funny.

There is a wonderful collection of characters here, starting with Arthur Wicksteed (John Cornwell), a 53 year old GP in the throes of his mid-life crisis. His wife Muriel (Annie Connell) is at first glance a pillar of rather too solid efficiency and respectability, but perhaps there may be longings lurking behind her rather full breast. Constance (Lesley Bilton), Arthur's sister, has the opposite problem - life would begin at 33 for her if she only had 'the Cairngorms on her chest'. And Dennis (Stuart Denman), Arthur and Muriel's son, is a cringing little acne-ridden hypochondriac who you could never, ever, imagine getting the girl.

Into this mix are thrust a collection of love interests for them all to squabble over, preferably in assignments double-booked for the same time ie 2.30 on Thursday afternoon. Constance has ordered some falsies which of course have to be followed up and checked by Mr Shanks the sales rep (Simon Bullock), and she is hoping for a fair few exciting marriage proposals once everything is in place. She already has one, though unwanted, from the reluctant long-time virgin Canon Throbbing (Daniel Watson), who hopes that his voyeuristic tendencies might be diverted by marriage and legitimate rumpy pumpy.

The buxom young Felicity Rumpers (Nikki Smith) appears along with her mother Lady Rumpers (Penny Tuerk) and causes much male havoc. Sir Percy Shorter (Ian Recordon) has a long-standing grudge against Arthur who robbed him of Muriel and poor old Mr Purdue (Henry Chester) has just had enough. Bosoms both old and new are heaved, trousers come down but rarely go up again, mistaken identities abound, and there are many very funny scenes. What would you do if you had three months left to live - indulge in rampant sexual activity perhaps, or a round the world trip spending all your credit card company's money? The good Canon would spend his time taking the library books back, cancelling the milkman, stopping the newspapers ... I can't adequately explain the humour in a few words but be assured that it is a complete riot.

The acting is as brilliantly over-the-top as you could hope for and really makes this sparkling production. The pace and timing are superb and the manic ensemble scenes are second to none. Holding proceedings together and sometimes pointing them on their way, much as a padded bra does, is the nosy cleaning lady Mrs Swabb (Celia Reynolds). Alan Bennett himself played this character in the opening season of the play - that must have been a sight to behold.

I will end with Arthur's heartfelt lament : 'Is this civilisation? Thank God Kenneth Clarke isn't here'.