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Habeas Corpus (Bolton)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Alan Bennett’s seaside postcard of a comedy – it’s a cartoon caper in the manner of those classic creations that epitomise the coarser English holiday resorts, though not as amusing – was one of his first West End hits, back in 1973.

The Manchester Library Theatre picked it up three years later and, remarkably, two of that cast are here again, 35 years on, playing the roles they played then – take a special bow for staying power, Margot Leicester and Russell Dixon.

Margot is the sex-starved - but determined to feast as soon as she can - Muriel Wicksteed, while Russell dons drag once again (he also used to be noted pantomime Dame) as the unshockable cleaner-narrator figure, Mrs Swabb. They are the dual mainstay of an evening that only fitfully manages to amuse.

Sex and attempts to get as much of it as possible, are the single motivating power behind virtually all the characters.

Dr Arthur Wicksteed (Rob Edwards) has been lusting after his patients all his career and here finds himself in a very compromising situation with the young Felicity Rumpers (the very glam Paula Jennings), while his sister-in-law stalks the stage obsessed with developing her bust as a means of entrapment.

A randy vicar, the man sent to adjust the bust enhancements, a hypochondriac son, a patient trying to top himself, and others, add up to a total cast of 11 eccentrics and with an array of nine multi-coloured beach huts spread across the stage to provide the doors for the quick-fire entrances and exits, physically it’s all quite impressive

But, sadly, despite his reputation, I don’t think any of Bennett’s plays manage to stand the test of time and I never rated this one highly in the first place. Now, it looks and sounds very dated, with far too high a percentage of the verbals and physical comedy being greeted with silence by the first night audience.

There are some brilliant lines in there, the best being very dark humour about the helplessness of the human condition. But I’ve yet to see the piece as a whole gel and director David Thacker is currently taking it all at too slow a pace. Best to attack it at a very fast lick in the hope that the sagging bits can be glossed over.

- Alan Hulme


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