Menier Chocolate Factory is currently home to the hilarious romp Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett. Which is now running until 27th February 2022.
The main storyline centres around General Practitioner Arthur Wicksteed (Jasper Britton) and his long-suffering wife Muriel Wicksteed (Catherine Russell). Each of the eleven cast members become linked throughout the performance either by family, work colleagues or associates of work colleagues with the Dr’s and his wife.
The closed black coffin is set in the centre of the stage from the start and apart from being used as a prop, its main purpose for being there reveals itself towards the end. Without any other stage props, suspending your disbelief during each scene is easily achieved with the rich and wonderful script from the pen of Alan Bennett bringing the farce quickly to life through dated yet still funny humour. If you are familiar with Bennett’s work then you know what to expect.
In my opinion, the star of the show has to be Mrs Swabb the cleaning lady played by Ria Jones. As she oversees the other characters and fills in all the back story dialogue gaps throughout the play. A part once played by Alan Bennett himself. At times it reminded me of Julie Walters character Mrs Overall from the late Victoria Woods comedy sketches Acorn Antiques.
If you close your eyes towards the end when Canon Throbbing (Matthew Cottle) brings Bennett’s voice to the stage in his sermon at the wedding between Dennis Wicksteed (Thomas Josling) and Felicity Rumpers (Katie Bernstein). The likeness was uncanny.
Richard Hudson has an incredible eye for the 1970s costumes worn by the cast. I can remember seeing my family members wearing similar outfits during that era and it bought back a few childhood memories. Especially the large blue hat that was worn by Mrs Wicksteed in her “going out” outfit.
Directing a larger cast in a small-scale Theatre certainly takes a lot of skill and understanding. Patrick Marber manages to successfully direct the entire cast on the smaller stage without it looking overcrowded or disorganised.
It is fair to say that the script is dated and some audience members might find that they could be offended by some of the scenes, attitudes and sexual references. However, in 1973 when Habeas Corpus was first staged it reflected attitudes and behaviour indicative of its time. In true Bennett style, the rich text and exaggerated characters work together as they “take the pith out of reality” and return Habeas Corpus to the stage once more for audiences in 2021. For Bennett fans such as myself, it is a real treat to see his work on stage.
For further details and tickets for this production and future productions at Menier Chocolate Factory please use the link below.
Photo credit Manuel Harlan.