Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Habeas Corpus

Grange Players

Grnge Playhouse, Walsall


Alan Bennett’s 1973 farce, complete with trousers either missing or draped around ankles, is majestically vulgar, with a light dusting of filth, a touch of music hall, breasts aplenty, and, above all, it is wonderfully, belly-laugh funny.

Director Martin Groves has brought in some lovely comic touches and has avoided the temptation to overdress the stage, limiting scenery to just three simple rainbow coloured chairs – which, according to Bennett, is his ideal staging . . . the chairs, that is, the rainbow being optional.

It is a play with 11 characters who spend their time arriving and leaving like trains at rush hour New Street so having to manoeuvre around tables, desks, standard lamps or the like would only serve to slow down the necessary breakneck pace.

The play is set in Hove and to help to comings and goings Groves has cleverly surrounded the stage with seven gaily coloured beach hut fronts, which not only add interest, but give us seven exits and entrances, again speeding up the constant personnel changes.

As for the play, it is a sort of smutty surreal affair with Joanne James quite superb as Mrs Swabb the cleaner, amateur astrologist and sort of one woman Greek chorus with a feather duster.

She introduces the cast as contestants in a game show and keep us up to date with all the comings and goings - and the contestants? There is Arthur Wickstead, a GP with a severe case of cynical boredom and an even more severe case of lust, played with a hangdog air by Carl Horton.

Then there is Esther Horton, delighting in her role as his wife Muriel, blousy, sex starved and with still a flicker of the flame for past love and now president of the British Medical Association, Sir Percy Shorter, played with a nice touch of pomposity by Ray Lawrence.

The BMA’s annual conference is along the coast in Brighton and the diminutive Shorter, by name and by nature, is seeking out his lost love – and anything else vaguely female that he can get his hands on.

In fact, unrequited love . . . no, let’s be honest here, out and out lust seems to be a theme here. There is Connie, played with a lovely lack of enthusiasm by Louise Horton. Connie is the doc’s younger sister, as dowdy as they come and with a chest that would make East Anglia look mountainous. She dreams of being sexually alluring – which is a bit of a long shot but with a fiver’s worth of false breasts, who knows?

While Connie is saying thanks for the mammaries, in comes Mr Shanks, a false breast fitter from the Leatherhead false breast company – a job that seems to be sadly missing in school careers’ advice . . .

Dominic Holmes’ Shanks is the odd one out in all this – he is sort of normal, or as normal as any bloke with a job fitting false breasts is likely to be


Meanwhile in the celibate corner, and desperate to get out of it, we have the man of God, the groin driven Canon Throbbing, played with remarkable enthusiasm for all things carnal by Rod Bissett. He has been courting and lusting after Connie for 10 unconsummated years.

And if this motley collection of lust driven misfits is not enough, we have Lady Rumpers, played by a pith helmeted Sue Evans, a sort of colonial Lady Bracknell, set on preserving the modesty and reputation of her lovely daughter Felicity, played curvaceously by Jessamy Ashton.

Felicity makes quite an impression in the groin area and elsewhere on Arthur’ son Kevin or Leonard, or something like that – he say’s his name is Dennis, so I suppose he must know.

Dennis, played at death’s door by Samuel Speed, is a wimpish, unattractive nerd of a lad, whose thoughts of sex outstrip his opportunity or even remote possibility by an insurmountable margin.

He has one attribute though, at least one that appeals to Felicity; he is suffering from Bell’s Palsy and has only three months to live. She is pregnant and needs a legitimate father. Three months seems a small, and short, price to pay. Sadly, she doesn’t know Dennis is a raving hypochondriac with access to medical journals who can have several fatal diseases a month.

So, there you have it. Shanks confuses Muriel for Connie, while Sir Percy takes time out from his plotting revenge on Wicksteed for taking Muriel away from him, to take a fleshly fancy to Felicity who is also lusted after by Arthur; the vicar has been looking up ladies’ skirts, and Lady Rumpers has a confession of a wartime tryst in Liverpool’s blitz that changes everything!

The plot is simple involving mistaken identities, mistaken breasts – there are a lot of breasts involved – lust and laughs. Oh, and then there is Mr Purdue, played by Craig Hobson, who is a suicidal patient – the only genuine patient in the whole thing – and no one really cares, even less so when they realise that he is NHS and not private

There are some lovely moments which will cause any man who has been in a doctor’s surgery and seen the rubber gloves come out to clench his buttocks, as Arthur, in his medical capacity gives the good Canon the once over including the finger in the Marigolds and the old cough treatment, all in silhouette behind a screen – a clever bit of staging engendering hoots of laughter, seemingly more from women than men . . . there is a cruel streak that can surface in them at times.

Lighting, from Stan Vigurs and Groves is effective, using spots well aided by Sam Evans’ sound for such scenes as seagulls on the pier.

Some of the references are a little dated almost 50 years on, but the play itself has stood up well, largely because it is so daft, verging on theatre of the absurd. It has some gloriously funny moments, keeps up a cracking pace and is full of laughs which will bring a smile to anyone on a cold winter’s evening. A fine start to the new year. To 19-01-19.

Roger Clarke


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