Theatre review – Alastair Thomas

Habeas Corpus at Chorley Little Theatre

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Habeas_Corpus

Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (CADOS) almost filled the theatre on 26 April 2016. The audience were mostly grey-haired folk, but it was good to see some younger people there too. The auditorium is not big, so we were all quite close to the stage. Parking nearby was not a problem.

The play, one of Alan Bennett’s earliest, was in the same genre as the Brian Rix farces that used to fill London’s Whitehall Theatre. The programme gave us a “Word of warning, there will be trouser dropping and a little bit of bosom holding. Thick cardigans were provided during rehearsals.”! The amateur cast produced an enjoyable evening with slick timing, audible punchlines and quick-fire repartee.

The play was held together by David Walker (Dr Wicksteed) who appeared in almost every scene, and by Sue Hilton, playing Mrs Swabb, who ‘comes in to clean’ and who provided a lot of narrative continuity. Sean Roberts played the hopeless hypochondriac son, Dennis Wicksteed, who “gets the girl” in the end – Felicity Rumpers (Sara Norse). Diane Glover was a plausibly busty Muriel Wicksteed, the eager wife of the jaded Doctor. Her flat-chested sister-in-law, Connie Wicksteed (played by Cassandra Wicksteed – she must be related!) was the happy recipient of a pair of ‘falsies’ that would, she hoped, miraculously transform her bosom and her love-life, which centred on the bicycle-riding vicar, Canon Throbbing.

Other characters included Sir Percy Shorter (Ken Brindley), Muriel Wicksteed’s ‘old flame’, risen to the heights of President of the BMA and determined to disgrace Dr Wicksteed – until the tables were turned on him when it was revealed that he had fathered the illegitimate Felicity Rumpers while her mother was sheltering in his surgery during the blitz! Felicity’s mother, Lady Rumpers, (Renee Clitheroe) was a very convincing self-important lady. Barry Callander, playing the “falsie-fitter” technician, added to the fun effectively with a succession of trouser-less entrances. Bob Hopkinson was the depressive Purdue whose lugubrious presence opened the play and who later reappeared with a noose around his neck to add contrast to the prevailing hilarity.

The text has stood the test of time well, although younger members of the audience may not have known who Ted Heath was! The stage set was well-designed and depicted the Wicksteeds’ sunny sitting room with the Doctor’s surgery stage right, with 1960s hospital screens to add authenticity. A pair of deck-chairs stage left represented ‘the end of Brighton pier’. All in all the play was very enjoyable – all the more so as it was performed by an amateur group.

Thanks to Alastair Thomas for this report.

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