‘Habeas Corpus’ (translated from Latin as ‘You Shall Have The Body’) is a comical farce written by Alan Bennett, which made its theatrical debut in London’s West End back in 1973. You could, therefore, be forgiven for wondering whether a comical yet character-based piece such as this still has relevance in today’s world.
The Bench Theatre present us with their take on this farcical tale of the highly dysfunctional Wicksteed family, and the events of one rather chaotic day in their household. To stage a piece such as this successfully requires exceptional skill from both the director and the actors – Bennett’s work here is as sharp as it is punchy, and anything less than 100% commitment from all involved would see this simply fall flat on its face.
Thankfully, The Bench Theatre do not disappoint one inch. Philip Amor truly excels as the ‘frayed around the edges’ local GP Arthur Wicksteed, suffering a post mid-life crisis; matched exceptionally to perfection by Sarah Parnell as his long-suffering, neglected wife – both of whom chasing the lust and desire that escaped their dwindling marriage long ago. In both Armor and Parnell we are evidently witnessing the highly professional work of two fine actors, both clearly well versed in their craft.
Ingrid Corrigan is delightful as Mrs Swabb – the interfering yet loveable cleaner, delivering comical pathos with sincere ease and wonderfully sharp on her cues; her comedy timing so impressively on point from start to finish. Leigh Cunningham marvellously takes the audience by complete surprise as the Wicksteed’s wimpish, hypercondriac of a son, Dennis. Cleverly disguised as a post-pubescent boy, Cunningham certainly lets her remarkable commitment and skill do the real hard work of making the audience forget that we are actually watching a female.
What truly makes this production stand out, however, is the sheer commitment that each and every actor within this cast of eleven gives to their characterisation from curtain up to curtain call. No matter which character is taking centre stage within an ensemble scene, every single actor gives full commitment to their performance no matter how great or little their dialogue. The scenes involving the entire cast together are a real treat to observe with every character so well-crafted and individual.
Director Jacquie Penrose has much to be proud of here, leading a cast of true professional merit to deliver a first class performance in the intimate space of Havant’s Spring Arts & Heritage Centre. With minimal set, she truly proves that quality theatre is based soley on performance and that alone, quashing any cynicism one might have in line with my earlier point – as there most certainly IS still relevance for a piece such as this in today’s world. As long as The Bench Theatre continue to deliver these 5* productions, long may these pieces continue.