Friday, June 20, 2014


Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society at the Tractor Shed

Not for the first time, it's off to Latchingdon to see Habeas Corpus, one of the best plays by my favourite writer.
Alan Bennett's philosophical farce is a challenge for any group, not least because there is so much for the actors to do, and for the audience to appreciate. The jokes and the references come thick and fast; timing is crucial.
Even on opening night, LADS managed a creditable pace, and kept the thinnish crowd audibly amused. Gavin Rouse's affectionate production had many delightful touches: the telephones handed on from the wings [with the hands included in the cleverly choreographed curtain call], the surreal dancing with chairs in the closing moments, the follow spot, and the pop-up scenery [“set the scene and see the set-up”] reminiscent of Latchingdon in its glory days.
He was helped by a strong cast of comedy actors.
Keith Spencer certainly looked the part of the old-fashioned General Practitioner from Hove. I am sure that his confidence and comic timing will have increased as the run went on. But many opportunities were missed [no attempt to convey the subtext of the “a little run down” speech]. He was good, though, in his Brighton Pier sequences [Bennett would be bemused, or possibly incensed, to hear his verse bowdlerized] and the Our World speech.
Eileen Judd was his frustrated wife – elocution her strong point - Carole Hart his flat-chested spinster sister. Nice work from Adam Hart, in his awful specs, as Dennis/Trevor/Leonard and Aimee Hart as the lovely Felicity. Gill Bridle was outstanding as the old colonial lady, commanding the stage and never missing a trick. Greek Chorus Amelia Swabb was superbly done, with Hoover and feather duster, by Joan Cooper. Denzil Shanks, with his fluttering hands, was David Hudson, Canon Throbbing, on his bike, was Alan Elkins. LADS veteran Robin Warnes lost inches to play a convincing Sir Percy, and Bill Wright was the unfortunate Mr Purdue.
Some black holes in the lighting plot meant that crucial asides, especially stage right, tended to be lost; the black curtains in the doorways were a distraction. I wasn't convinced by the Instamatic. I wanted to see the Rubens [helps to get the Apollo Space Missions laugh]. And I was sorry that the Hammond organ we heard at the opening wasn't used more often.
Tiny niggles, these, for the most part, born out of an unhealthily close acquaintance with the play – producer once, MD once, audience countless times, from Guinness on. This was a thoroughly enjoyable romp, boldly and stylishly done by the legendary LADS.

1 comment:

Mary Redman said...

The rather more than somewhat experience of watching a play while ancient tractors watch with you is somehow appropriate for Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus. He uses this satirical, farcical recreation to criticise the state of the nation in the Swinging Sixties; which took a while to filter slowly down to the backwaters of sleepy Hove.
The history of Keith Spencer's Dr Arthur Wicksteed and his unusual family came from Joan Cooper's excellent “woman wot does” Mrs Swabb, who set the scene. Her cheery cries of “Hoover, Hoover, Hoover” a Greek Chorus each time she entered with her carpet sweeper. And yes, I wondered why they'd given her that piece of machinery. The production was enthusiastically directed by Gavin Rouse who might be unfamiliar with housework.
Bennett uses the format of a game show to control the action on stage. In this he anticipated television's Big Brother, but sends up the slightly upper middle classes instead.
Under the Wicksteed roof are Arthur a failed, bored, lecherous GP, his frustrated wife Muriel (Eileen Judd), their hypochondriac and geeky son Dennis (Adam Hart) who certainly is no oil painting, and Carole Hart's hilarious wallflower Constance. This flat-chested virgin's desperate to get a bust and a man - any man except her fiancé.
Bicycling through the audience into this idyllic paradise came Constance's fiancé Canon Throbbing. Strongly played by Alan Elkins he was just as desperate as the rest of them, but manfully fighting Satan in sexual disguise.
A pocket battleship with all guns blazing and taking no prisoners was Gill Bridle's Lady Rumpers. Trailing in her wake was Felicity her nicely brought up daughter (Aimee Hart).
Adding to the confusion David Hudson's Mr Shanks the bust technician arrived to fit the mail order artificial bosom for Constance. While a desperate patient Mr Purdue (Bill Wright) tried to hang himself from a light fitting and Robin Warnes' Chairman of the British Medical Association Sir Percy Shorter stirred things up some more.
Every time something more incredible happened the astonished comment came “This must be what they mean by the permissive society.”
You have to remember that the 60s were only about two decades after the Second World War so that it was perfectly feasible that Sir Percy, Lady Rumpers and Felicity could have something in common, to do with an air raid blackout in Liverpool as it were.
Gavin's production produced plenty of laughs played with lots of energy, especially the finale which was taken at a frantic pace. There was clever use of disembodied hands thrusting telephones on stage and incidental music to underline jokes and tricoteuses mimed furiously knitting as Throbbing interrogated Sir Percy. This was an entertaining first night of the run.

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