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Sell-out show of Habeas Corpus kicks off 2017 in style

Posted: Wednesday 25 January, 2017

Next Stage Theatre Company celebrated The Mission Theatre's 12th Birthday with a sold-out production of Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus from 17th - 21st January. The company were honoured on the show's opening night when the Right Worshipful the Mayor fo Bath Councillor Paul Crossley was in the audience. The Mayor, and his guest enjoyed the play so much that they stayed to enjoy a post-show drink with the cast.

The cast and crew of Habeas Corpus with the Right Worshipful the Mayor fo Bath Councillor Paul Crossley

Habeas Corpus was enjoyed by the 600+ audience members who watched it over the week, and Next Stage's production also received brilliant reviews from Petra Schofield and Philip Horton for the Bath Chronicle:

"This is classic Bennett with his razor sharp wit and thought provoking humanity, full of warmth with frantic humour bordering on farce; on this occasion the cast the Mission Theatre have got it absolutely right.

The plot is a satirical merry go round we are presented with a series of mistaken identities, sexual tensions and dropped trousers in true comedy style. Set in Hove, Dr. Wicksteed alongside his friends and family explore their sexual fantasies and passions in this glorious script The main thrust of the piece relying on Dr. Wicksteed’s motto “He whose lust lasts, lasts longest.”

The direction (Alison Paine) is slick and well paced, the sparse set allowing seamless transitions and ensuring the internal monologues of the often bewildered and frustrated characters are carried easily through the rapid scenes and musical interludes.

The performances are excellent. Caroline Groom (Mrs. Swabb) is a wonderful narrator, all knowing and gossiping but completely in control. David Holt (Dr. Wicksteed) a gloriously lecherous GP neatly cast alongside Kay Francksen (Mrs. Wicksteed) his long suffering, sexually frustrated wife who seeks a little bit of spice and most definitely finds it. Mike Stevens (Mr Shanks) is the scene stealing salesman on the hunt for his “client.”

The entire cast are picture perfect, the comedy is bawdy and the timing is immaculate. This is a great achievement and kicks 2017 off in fine style for this exciting company.
Petra Schofield

"National treasure that he is, Alan Bennett invariably slips something risque into his material. With Habeas Corpus, he rarely slips anything in that isn’t risque. It’s a McGill postcard come to life and, obviously to Bennett’s amusement, set in Hove, the posh end of Brighton.

Based in the house of Dr Arthur Wicksteed and his unsatisfied wife Muriel, where “Arthur falls asleep as soon as his teeth hit the glass,” Muriel complains.

Their cleaning lady, Mrs Swabb (Caroline Groom, super as the working class commentator), acts as prologue.

The doctor pursues a nubile patient, his wife lusts after Sir Percy Shorter while the doctor's flat chested (“Bust like a billiard table” says Muriel) sister Connie yearns for a larger bosom and a man. Mrs Swabb orders false boobs for Connie - an innovation in the early seventies when the play was written, though almost mandatory now - which arrive closely followed by the man to fit them.

Throw in Canon Throbbing, engaged to Connie for 10 unrequited years, Lady Rumpers, mother of well endowed Felicity (chased by Arthur and his hypochondriac son Dennis), a patient intent on suicide, plus various mistaken identities and you have all the ingredients of a classic farce.

While farces have gone somewhat out of fashion, this is written by Bennett and hence is a cut considerably above average. For instance, Lady Rumpers admits that daughter Felicity was conceived under a table during the blackout in Liverpool but claims not to know the father as she only, “Saw his face under the fitful light of a post coital Craven A.”

With a minimal set, just a pair of chairs, a bench and a stool, and some very clever directing, this is great entertainment played with highly professional relish by the whole cast.

Almost sold out before the first night, it well worth trying to squeeze in for an evening of genuine, erudite, laughter."

Philip Horton, Bath Chronicle

All in the all, the show was a huge success! Watch out for the company's Youth production of Great Expectations (February 14th - 18th) and a revival of Kay Francksen's one-woman play My Brilliant Divorce (May 4th - 8th)

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