Habeas Corpus (2009)

by Tony Flook

Director John Taylor took a risk when he decided to present Fetcham Players’ latest production in the round.

In the event, it turned out the concept of having the audience seated around a central performing area was an inspired idea which added a new dimension to Alan Bennett’s surreal comedy.

The audience surrounded and was almost within touching distance of the performers, yet every member of the 11-strong cast played within the acting area, throughout, as if totally contained within their own world.

It was easy to become so engrossed in the action that it was possible to forget that there were more chairs, directly in line across the stage. No matter either that some lines were inevitably delivered to other parts of the house – each word wherever directed was totally audible.

A further strength was that every exchange sounded spontaneous (where the author intended it to be) and each line delivered with exactly the right feel. The actors knew where they could expect laughs and, generally, waited for them just long enough.

The show’s one weakness was that the impetus was, if anything, consistently too pacey. In fairness, script almost encourages this as, even in the quieter passages, there’s no time to relax – a humorous line is never far away.

Although overall Habeas Corpus is an ensemble piece, some characters have the chance to thrust themselves forward more than others.

Mike May oozed his way through as the lecherous GP Dr Wicksteed who fantasises about his female patients. He is though, always brought to heel by his forthright wife, Muriel (Linda McMahon).

Jamie McCandlish’s portrayal of his hypochondriac son, Dennis, could be faulted solely for his use of an accent which is heard only on the stage. Constance, his repressed sister, was brought brilliantly to life by Helen Andrews.

Sally Hall added a touch of wide-eyed appeal as the slightly pregnant Felicity – eager to marry for the sake of respectability and keen to be a widow as soon as possible. Kay Angell projected elegance as her mother, Lady Rumpers.

Nothing at the Wicksteed residence escapes the notice of Mrs Swabb, the char, played to perfection by Pat Thompsett, whether in conversation, acting as narrator or as a silent observer of the bizarre goings-on.

Peter Magyar’s lighting enabled every area of the stage to be used effectively.

Fetcham Players’ first production for a year was well worth waiting for.

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