Habeas Corpus - performed February 1985

By Alan Bennett

Performed with the kind permission of Samuel French

Director - Dennis Murfitt


(in order of appearance)

Dr. Arthur Wickstead Dennis Murfitt
Mrs Swabb Tracy Amos
Muriel Wickstead Val Taylor
Dennis Wickstead Johnathon Taylor
Constance Wickstead Shirley Holmes
Sir Percy Shorter Bert Yeates
Lady Rumpers Jane Cousins
Conon Throbbing Adrian Bolton
Felicity Rumpers Diana Woodley
Mr Shanks Micheal Caven
Mr Purdue Christopher Meade

Production Team

Val Taylor, Viv Wheatley, Judy Hussey, Jenny Rollings, Ian Tucker, Bruce Emeny, Maurice Barber, Greg Garrod, Trevor Amos, Geoffrey Taylor, Tracy Amos, Gill Baxter, Kevin Brown, Geoffrey Austin, Derek Cobbold, Bill Chapman, Pamela Talbot-Ashby.

The Play

A gorgeously vulgar farce that is a downright celebration of sex and the human body. In the home of Dr. Arthur Wicksteed wild and wicked things go on in a Feydeau style fashion. Along with the lecherous doctor, the cast includes his mountainous wife, a celibate curate who is engaged to the doctor's flat chested spinster sister, a cantilevered sexpot, an invertebrate hypochondriac and an arrogant colonialist. Identities are mistaken, wires crossed and into this mad fun house comes a falsie fitter summoned by the flat chested spinster. Needless to say things get sorted out in the end, but not without a lot of hilarity along the way.


Alan Bennett's seaside postcard romp of false bosoms and mistaken identities is both hysterically funny and pathetic at one and the same time - a celebration of, and an equal distaste for, the urges of the human body.
Dennis Murfitt's entertaining production was played almost entirely for laughs, and in that sense very successfully. The packed audiences reacted as much to their own temerity in unashamedly enjoying themselves as to the clever naughtiness of the play itself.
The director himself played Arthur Wickstead, "general practitioner from Brighton's silk-stocking district of Hove," with a casual world-weariness and confidential lechery that took in all the comedy potential but perhaps missed out on some of the essential sadness of the trapped character. There was a storming performance from Val Taylor, however, as his frustrated wife Muriel, fit to rival any of the quite extraordinary fine local characterisations of recent years. Assured, fully-rounded and beautifully projected, the playing had an instinct for comic timing that was breathtaking. Johnathon Taylor was the acme = or more accurately "acne" - of weedy, spotty adolescence as their moronic son Dennis. Shirley Homes made a depressed, if attractive-far-too-soon, Connie. Jane Cousins was a formidable Land of Hope and Glory outpost of Empire and Diana Woody looked suitably dishy as her erring daughter. Micheal Caven made a great play with his "little Polaroid" as the salesman, Shanks, and Adrian Bolton all Thwarted Anglican sexuality as the "priest with five fingers," Canon Throbbing. Tracy Amos pulled all the strings as a flatly common Mrs Swab and Bert Yeates had his august moments as the distinguished Sir Percy Shorter.
The early bosom massage almost totally killed the glorious revulsion of: It's the real thing - flesh!" Muriels striptease should have been carried out in reality. Connie's final transformation, too, surely rated at least as much solo build-up with lighting and music as Felicity's first entrance. The non-suspension of the noose harness virtually destroyed the reason for Mr Purdue's inclusion in the play, while Sir Percy's nether garments might have easily been rigged to descend on their own accord. The reservations apart, a richly comic production.
Jimmy James

A randy doctor, a lecherous vicar, attempted suicide, terminal illness and a padded bra all find their way into Habeas Corpus, the latest production by Manningtree's Manifest Theatre Group.
The story is pure farce, as doctor Arthur Wickstead, and his wife Muriel play host to a cast of bizarre characters who mistake one another for someone else. Confusion reigns, and almost everything comes right for the final curtain.
Heading the cast, Dennis Murfitt and Val Taylor, as Mr and Mrs Wickstead, provide two superb and contrasting performances and very well supported by the nine other cast members. Especially good is Johnathon Taylor as the Wickstead's hypochondriac son Dennis, who looks to have one foot in the grave from his first appearance on stage. The cast coped admirably with a variety of saucy scenes. The play has the atmosphere of a saucy romp, and the audience, when I went along, showed its appreciation by clapping at especially good lines in the middle of a scene - if this was distracting for the players it added to the enjoyment of a very good production.
But it does have a serious side, and the performances do manage to bring out some of the sadness of the "human condition" both physical and mental, to which Habeas Corpus addresses itself. Off stage, the clever lighting and sound effects should not go unnoticed. A very enjoyable evening.

Photo Shoot

(standing - Chris, Shirley, Micheal, Bert, Jon, Adrian, Tracey, Dennis)
(seated - Diane, Jane, Val)