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26th Jun, 2022

REVIEW - Habeas Corpus - The Bear Pit Theatre Company, Stratford

Ian Hughes 18th Mar, 2018 Updated: 18th Mar, 2018

Habeas Corpus

The Bear Pit Theatre Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, until Saturday March 24


ALAN Bennett reportedly criticised some earlier productions of his play for allowing theatrical convention to blur its true concept.

Here there is no such hindrance. With verve and vitality, the company launches into a delightfully frenzied farce which, by its very naughty nature, strides a clever path somewhere between Carry On slapstick and Joe Orton black comedy.

As a team effort, it fairly fizzes along and director Vanessa Comer achieves a splendid all-round entertainment which in no way shirks the saucy demands of its writer. If you’re looking for political correctness, there’s none here. Bennett clearly decided to go for broke on the founding of the supposed permissive society and base it all around a dysfunctional family and their equally dysfunctional social circle.

Thus the players are tasked with conveying lust in all its variable guises, from good-old fashioned leching by the ageing family head to pent-up passions for an old flame by his wife to yearnings for a life-changing boobs job by their spinster sister.

The pace has to be smart and the director ensures, with the help of cleverly-placed settings, that obstacles never get in the way of the performers’ mobility. This even extends to father delivering his lifetime philosophies from a raised platform – here, in addition to the anticipated witty dialogue, Bennett treats us to some delicious passages of verse, a ploy which would have actually worked beautifully if it could have been applied to the whole play.

Peter Ward tackles this challenge with great style and is beautifully backed by Pamela Hickson as his ever-coarsening wife and Kathy Buckingham Underhill as the sister yearning for breast redemption. But it’s a genuine ensemble effort with each player turning up trumps in a production which has a fine eye for the intricacies of what was then a newly irreverent age.

It’s a fair assumption that Mr B would be quite pleased with this one.

Peter McGarry



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