Habeas Corpus

HABEAS_CORPUS_POSTER_003_LETTER copyAt PAL Studio June 15 (8PM) and June 16 (2PM)
Tickets at the door

Posted on June 15, 201

Why would I bother reviewing a three-performance-only, staged reading of a silly play? Because it features such a wonderful collection of professionals all in one show: Adam Henderson, Nicola Lipman, Merrilyn Gann, Mack Gordon, Linda Carson, Russell Roberts, Annabel Kershaw, Anthony F. Ingram, Susan Coodin and Luke Beattie.

It takes actors of this caliber to pull Alan Bennett’s farce together in ten hours. Not ten days – ten hours. But under Anna Hagan’s light but deft direction touch, the cast absolutely nails this ridiculous romp through the social, sexual mores of the early 70s in Hove, just west of Brighton, East Sussex, England.

What a treat it is to be in an audience that’s having such good fun. There’s nothing complicated about Bennett’s play; oh, you could dig into it and find depth if you could stop laughing long enough. I mean, really, there’s nothing funny about Dr. Wicksteed (Adam Henderson) trying to get into the panties of his pretty young patient Felicity Rumpers (Susan Coodin). Medical associations have rules against it, right? But Habeas Corpus doesn’t go there. It skips along the surface with an ongoing gag about flat-chested, 33-year-old Constance Wicksteed (Linda Carson) trying to improve her rapidly diminishing chance at romance by increasing the size of her breasts. Carson gets thoroughly and repeatedly groped as does Mrs. Wicksteed (Merrilyn Gann), wife of the naughty doctor.

And, in the style of 18th century comedy, Bennett has fun with the names of his characters: Sir Percy Shorter (Russell Roberts) – lots of ‘short man’ jokes here; Canon Throbbing (Anthony F. Ingram), with his fondness for looking up women’s skirts; Mr. Shanks (Luke Beattie), who spends most of the play in his boxer shorts; Lady Rumpers (Annabel Kershaw), whose young ‘rump’ got her into hot water as she sought shelter in a bomb shelter during WW II.

And then there’s the housemaid, Mrs. Swabb (the incomparable Nicola Lipman whose dry delivery of many of Bennett’s best lines rivals a drought on Australia’s outback.) Mrs. Swabb knows everything about the Wicksteed household including knowing “when they change their undies.” Lipman is the focal point of all the action and she’s so cranky and caustic it’s hilarious. “Hoover, hoover, hoover”, Mrs. Swabb complains but Lipman makes it sound so funny – in a sort of class-consciously, wicked way.

The language is grand (like Mrs. Wicksteed looking for “a tenant for [her] fallow loins” or Dr. Wicksteed commenting on “the long littleness of life”); the pithy remarks are non-stop (“Most men don’t bear close examination” or “The Second World War was God’s gift to the lecher.”) And Dr. Wicksteed breaks into rhyming couplets at the drop of a scene change.

A Persian rug, a lovely little settee, costumes (lovely gown on Kershaw; clerical robes on Ingram, drab cardigan on Carson and a sweet little sundress on Coodin (probably her own) and that’s it. Although everyone has a script in hand, we soon forget and simply get on with giggling at the misunderstandings, mistaken identities and lust gone AWOL.

Habeas Corpus is presented by Western Gold Theatre, a company of senior professional actors committed to presenting work to audiences of all ages. A handful in this cast are obviously not senior but as Mrs. Swabb might comment, “If you hang around long enough, you’re bound to end up old.”

It takes actors of this caliber to pull Alan Bennett’s farce together in ten hours. Not ten days – ten hours. But under Anna Hagan’s light but deft direction touch, the cast absolutely nails this ridiculous romp through the social, sexual mores of the early 70s in Hove, just west of Brighton, East Sussex, England.

What a treat it is to be in an audience that’s having such good fun. There’s nothing complicated about Bennett’s play; oh, you could dig into it and find depth if you could stop laughing long enough. I mean, really, there’s nothing funny about Dr. Wicksteed (Adam Henderson) trying to get into the panties of his pretty young patient Felicity Rumpers (Susan Coodin). Medical associations have rules against it, right? But Habeas Corpus doesn’t go there. It skips along the surface with an ongoing gag about flat-chested, 33-year-old Constance Wicksteed (Linda Carson) trying to improve her rapidly diminishing chance at romance by increasing the size of her breasts. Carson gets thoroughly and repeatedly groped as does Mrs. Wicksteed (Merrilyn Gann), wife of the naughty doctor.

And, in the style of 18th century comedy, Bennett has fun with the names of his characters: Sir Percy Shorter (Russell Roberts) – lots of ‘short man’ jokes here; Canon Throbbing (Anthony F. Ingram), with his fondness for looking up women’s skirts; Mr. Shanks (Luke Beattie), who spends most of the play in his boxer shorts; Lady Rumpers (Annabel Kershaw), whose young ‘rump’ got her into hot water as she sought shelter in a bomb shelter during WW II.

And then there’s the housemaid, Mrs. Swabb (the incomparable Nicola Lipman whose dry delivery of many of Bennett’s best lines rivals a drought on Australia’s outback.) Mrs. Swabb knows everything about the Wicksteed household including knowing “when they change their undies.” Lipman is the focal point of all the action and she’s so cranky and caustic it’s hilarious. “Hoover, hoover, hoover”, Mrs. Swabb complains but Lipman makes it sound so funny – in a sort of class-consciously, wicked way.

The language is grand (like Mrs. Wicksteed looking for “a tenant for [her] fallow loins” or Dr. Wicksteed commenting on “the long littleness of life”); the pithy remarks are non-stop (“Most men don’t bear close examination” or “The Second World War was God’s gift to the lecher.”) And Dr. Wicksteed breaks into rhyming couplets at the drop of a scene change.

A Persian rug, a lovely little settee, costumes (lovely gown on Kershaw; clerical robes on Ingram, drab cardigan on Carson and a sweet little sundress on Coodin (probably her own) and that’s it. Although everyone has a script in hand, we soon forget and simply get on with giggling at the misunderstandings, mistaken identities and lust gone AWOL.

Habeas Corpus is presented by Western Gold Theatre, a company of senior professional actors committed to presenting work to audiences of all ages. A handful in this cast are obviously not senior but as Mrs. Swabb might comment, “If you hang around long enough, you’re bound to end up old.”

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