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.