John-Paul Stephenson

Review: Habeas Corpus, The People’s Theatre, Newcastle

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“This must be what they mean by ‘the permissive society’”, say Alan Bennett’s characters in various states of undress, in The People’s Theatre’s production of his 1970s comedy Habeas Corpus.

General Practitioner Arthur Wicksteed (Stephen Noone) is disgruntled at his advancing years, his wife (Sarah McLane) is generally disgruntled, and their daughter, Connie (Alison Carr), is disgruntled at the limited size of her assets in the chest department.

When she responds to an advertisement for a kit to expand her, er, collateral, a series of misidentifications, dropped trousers, and the inevitable vicar, make Bennett’s play a classic British farce with brain cells.

Set in the 1970s, the predominantly middle-class characters are coming to terms “the permissive society”; the decade in which soft core pornography and the Confessions films could be found in mainstream cinemas.

There are some familiar faces in the cast from recent comedies at the People’s, but perhaps none as notable as crowd-pleasing Anne Cater, who here constitutes the play’s working class contingent, Mrs Swabb.

The established cast know how to deliver lines for maximum laughs, aided by Bennett’s script, in which he moves between standard dialogue and rhyming couplets.

Another great comedy production from the gang at The People’s. Their autumn programme promises a couple of ‘serious’ plays in the coming months, including Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but the comedy returns in the new year with Daisy Pulls It Off.

Habeas Corpus runs at The People’s Theatre, Heaton, until 11 October 2014. Tickets are available on the door, from the theatre’s website, or by calling 0191 265 5020.