Habeas Corpus

Superb drama at Gainford (Darlington & Stockton Times)

Playwright Alan Bennett “took up residence” in Gainford, this week where his witty, chirpy and cheeky play Habeas Corpus has been performed by Gainford Drama club in the Academy. For those not up to scratch with legal lingo, habeas corpus is a writ which challenges impnsonment believed to be unlawful. But there are no jails or prisoners to be seen in this production, just a middle-aged, middle-class couple who longed to be away from each other. Arthur and Muriel Wicksteed, played superbly by Mike Sillars and Jean McCann, want nothing more than to be able to fulfill their own fantasies. Arthur lusts after a young patient, Felicity Rumpers, played by Claire Bell, while Muriel longs for someone to pay her attention. Other characters, such as the self-important Sir Percy Short (Paul Illingworth) and the delightfully named Canon Throbbing (John Robinson) become embroiled in the story of cheating, lying and deceit Sir Percy becomes involved with Muriel, who spurned him many years ago, while the Canon has amorous hopes of Arthur”s sister Constance (Iris Hillery). Perhaps the only sane person is the down-to-earth cleaner Mrs Swabb, played by Ronnie Lowery, who watches over all the misdemeanours that go on in and around Arthur”s surgery in Hove. The actors played their characters superbly and from the opening line-up of the main players it was easy to see what type of person each one was. While Muriel Wicksteed stood proudly in a sharp suit, her pathetic son Dennis (Lawrence Chandler) crouched limply nearby. Despite a few missed lines, the cast did justice to Alan Bennett”s trademark razor-sharp, thy dialogue and the sell-out audience all went home with smiles on their faces. A special mention must go to Mike Brown, who made a hilarious late cameo appearance as Mr Purdue, a depressed patient of Arthur Wicksteed”s who tries in vain to take his life.

Drama Club”s latest adaptation another hit with audiences (Teesdale Mercury)

Bennett must have been an adventurous play when it was first produced in 1973, and it still has some surprises for audiences today. The action is set in the family home of Arthur Wicksteed, a doctor played by Mike Sillars and Muriel Wicksteed, his wife, played by Jean McCann. It is the 70s, and a number of characters play out their lives as they catch up with the “permissive society” of the 60s. Alan Bennett uses some unusual theatrical devices throughout the play, especially at the start where the Wicksteed family are introduced to the audience in the style of a game show, with the cleaner, Mrs Swabb played by Ronnie Lowery, as the host. Mrs Swabb also narrates large sections of the story directly to the audience in rhyme. As a result the story begins slowly, but soon picks up pace as we learn which characters are paired up at the start and try to work out who will end up with who at the end. The pace increases with the introduction of Mr Shanks, played by Allan Jones and Sir Percy Shorter, played by Paul Illingworth, who played their comic parts brilliantly adding complications to all the characters lives. The strength of this production was in the pairings of the characters, which include Dennis Wicksteed, played by Lawrence Chandler and Felicity Rumpers, played by Claire Bell who gave convincing performances as they each revealed their own motives to the audience, but not to each other. Cannon Throbbing, played by John Robinson and Constance Wicksteed, played by Iris Hillery as the couple who have been engaged for years provided a number of comic moments between them. Mr Purdue, played by Mike Brown, added other short humorous moments and the final pieces of the story were put in place by Lady Rumpers, played by Joan White. This was a well-directed, well-performed comedy with the usual cases of mistaken identity and the plenty of twists and surprises at the end.