‘Habeas Corpus’ is an uproarious, bawdy farce by Yorkshire playwright, Alan Bennett. The love affairs in Bennett’s plays – such as ‘Talking Heads’ - are most often, sadly, far from consummated. Here he has gone to the other extreme, where a bucket of ice would be handy. This hilarious 2-hour production is directed by theatre legend Edgar Metcalfe and is being performed at the Dolphin Theatre, Crawley Drive, UWA, Nedlands. Curtain up nightly at 7.30 until 4th August.
Edgar has had a lifetime of experience in the theatre. As a youth in repertory theatre, then in London Whitehall-style farces before coming to Australia, where he has been an admired actor and artistic director for 50 years. Age is supposed to slow people down, but Edgar’s drive and timing are as fresh as ever.
‘Habeas Corpus’ hit the stage almost 40 years ago, with Alec Guinness in the leading role. With the quality of Bennett’s writing, it will be many years before the script becomes dated. Even the character names bring a smile. It has been jokingly said that this play brought about the reform of the British Medical Association’s advice and rules on the intimate patient / GP relationship the following year.
The set is simple but effective (designer Jonathon Beckett), with a fancy proscenium arch declaring ‘Amusement Fair’, and a blue background with a massive drawing of Michelangelo’s ‘Portrait of Man’ (artists Rebecca McKinlay-Knowles and Nathan Paterson). This represents a summer’s day on Brighton Pier.
It is 1960s in Hove, the posh west end of Brighton. After a brief strum from the guitar playing stagehand (Simon Bush), we find ourselves in the upmarket practice of Dr Arthur Wicksteed (Garry T Saunders – back acting after 12 years in the wilderness). Arthur is finishing yet another day of fondling his private, young lady patients. Although Arthur’s beautiful and voluptuous wife, Muriel Wicksteed (Meredith Daniel) is desperate for affection, Arthur is oblivious. The daggy, pathetic Dennis Wicksteed (Jake Ecker) is their nervous and hypochondriacal son, who has every disease in his father’s textbooks.
The Yorkshire housekeeper, Mrs Swabb (Lis Hoffmann, an absolute joy), complete with headscarf and pinny, keeps her ear to the ground, and misses nothing that happens in the house. Also living in the house is the plain and flat-chested, Constance Wicksteed (Janny O’Connell, so lacking in boobs that she probably has ‘this way up’ tattooed on her chest. Poor Constance has been courting the sexually very curious, Canon Throbbing (Jeff Watkins – congratulations on his 50th theatrical role) for many years without any arousal, she is certainly missing out on the Permissive Society.
In desperation, Constance decides to consult Mr Shanks (Geoff Miethe) an expert on making the most of a lady’s inadequate figure.
When the self-opinionated and arrogant President of the BMA, Sir Percy Shorter (Rodney Greaves) calls at the practice, Muriel immediately recognises him as her first and ever endearing love.
Just as Dr Wicksteed is about to close surgery for the day, the wealthy Lady Rumpers (Shirley Toohey) arrives with her stunning teenage daughter, Felicity Rumpers (Brianna Stanway). For a nubile body like Felicity’s, Wicksteed’s practice is ever open; however, if you are an NHS patient, like the suicidal Mr Purdue (Brian Dennison), then the doctor is not in the slightest interested.
Will the many sexual appetites be satisfied? Or will life just go on the same?
The characters in this very funny play are more like caricatures. The doctor is superbly portrayed by Gary T., who seems to have based his character on Alan Bennett himself. Often the doctor’s script would turn to rhyming couplets, with a Shakespearean delivery. The dialogue was perfectly delivered by this first class, vastly under-employed, actor.
The script had several British references of the era, such as Ted Heath (the Prime Minister at the time) and Craven A (a popular cancer stick), but this would not spoil a young Aussie’s appreciation of this wonderful farce. There are numerous doublé entendres, which will have you in stitches. The gestures and body language brought out every scrap of the humour.
With a farce it is all in the timing. This was perfect, and the cast, especially the brave ladies let their hair down and just went for the sexy and daring demands of their characters. From the demure Felicity, to the desperate Constance and the purring, gasping Muriel. Delightful performances with just the right amount of ham.
Trousers fell, lingerie flowed and confusion reigned as this beautifully directed play progressed. The chemistry of the cast was faultless.
This was farce at its best. Most enjoyable.
Vibrant, edgy, and exciting, Rent is based on the glorious Puccini opera, La Boheme, a sumptuous, romantic, passionate feast for the senses set in 1840s bohemian Paris. Transported to 1980s New York, our innovative production will hark back to its artistic origins, allowing the eternal bohemian spirit that spans the ages to infect the stage with beauty and light.