Fabulous Farce

Habeus Corpus by Alan Bennett at Colchester Mercury until March 15.Oh, wicked Arthur Wicksteed. We fear that nothing in skirts is safe from his wanton middle-aged lascivity, especially the younger, more nubile members of the fair sex.

David Henshall

Habeus Corpus by Alan Bennett at Colchester Mercury until March 15.

Oh, wicked Arthur Wicksteed. We fear that nothing in skirts is safe from his wanton middle-aged lascivity, especially the younger, more nubile members of the fair sex. And him a doctor too - casting lustful eyes on the patients and ignoring with lipsmacking glee his oath about the inviolate secrecy of the consulting room.

How do we all know this? Because he is constantly spilling the titillating beans directly to us, sometimes just as saucy thoughts, sometimes as bits of anger and spite, because Arthur is not a nice man. He loves himself madly, can never remember his son's name and his wife Muriel simmers in lonely twin-bedded frustration.


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"I've known for years our marriage has been a mockery," she wails. "My body lying there night after night in the wasted moonlight. I now know how the Taj Mahal must feel."

Bennett's brilliant words and verse belt us in the funny bone minute by minute as Janice Dunn's bright direction unwraps as disfunctional a parcel of people as it has ever been my pleasure to meet.

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Arthur is run to earth by Sir Percy Shorter, President of the Medical Assocation, who, years after the event, is still steaming with rage that Muriel married Arthur not him and discovering his rival attempting to seduce one of his patients, Felicity Rumpers, he see his chance for revenge. He'll get Arthur disbarred.

But Sir Percy has problems of his own as does Felicity. She becomes involved with Arthur's hypochondriac son Dennis who is convinced he is dying of a rare disease and pleased about it, too.

Canon Throbbing, fiancé to Arthur's younger sister Constance and concerned that their 10-year engagement may be carrying celibacy a touch too far, is indeed a loose canon, always just a hair-trigger from exploding into erotic action and Connie is so embarrassed by her flat chest that she makes a bid for sexual freedom via a pair of mail order falsies.

When Lady Rumpers arrives in pursuit of her daughter Felicity and Mr Shanks, the falsie-fitter pops in to adjust Connie's purchase, the fun begins in earnest because Mr Shanks is never really quite sure who is wearing his mini Alps.

Mrs Swabb, the Wicksteed's daily is the only sane person present. In the shape of Romy Baskerville she's a great chorus who fills in the gaps in our knowledge and with helpful commonsense gives shape to the madness of this very funny farce, the first offering by the Mercury company this season.

Roger Delves-Broughton and Christine Absalom explore some wonderful moments as the sex-obsessed senior Wicksteeds and Michael Thomson is a nicely crushed and manipulated Dennis.

Eleanor Montgomery (Constance), Ben Livingstone (Throbbing), Clare Humphrey (Felicity), Miranda Bell (Lady Rumpers), Dale Superville (Sir Percy), Tim Freeman (Shanks) and Stephen Lorne Williams, as one of Wicksteed's depressed patients always threatening suicide, all weigh in with some hilarious stuff, nicely timed and delivered and dotted with clever musical moments.

David Henshall.

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