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Habeas Corpus


THEATRE ON THE STEPS PRODUCTION  of    Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett


The play highlights the sexual excesses of the middle classes in the 1960s. It centres around Dr Arthur Wicksteed, his family and some of the people they meet. There are three main plots, all of which meet at some point in the proceedings. Arthur Wicksteed MD, trusted medical practitioner, is tempted by the feminine charms of a young lady who wanders into his surgery one afternoon feeling faint. By chance she meets the doctor's hypochondriac son, Dennis, during her visit and learns that he is terminally ill with Brett's Palsy. This is the answer to her dreams as the honorable Felicity Rumpers is with child out of wedlock, a wicked crime, even in those promiscuous times. Three months of wedded bliss with the terminally ill Dennis will give her the respectability she needs when the baby eventually arrives.

Arthur's sister, Connie, is a little challenged around the bosom and hence has difficulty in attracting acceptable male suitors. Her current courtship with the limp Canon Throbbing has spent ten years in complete stagnation. Connie's fortunes change with the arrival of an appliance designed to give more proportion to her frontage as she uses her new-found confidence to attract the visiting President of the BMA, Sir Percy Shorter. Arthur's wife, Muriel, is put out by Percy's preference for the dowdy Connie, especially as it was she who arranged for the eminent doctor to visit. Muriel is not left out of the relational merry-go-round as she welcomes Connie's appliance fitter into the house. He immediately believes that he has found the right Wicksteed and begins to adjust the appliance. She believes that he is exercising an incredibly cheeky opening gambit and responds with pleasure to his flattery. Still at cross purposes Denzil Shanks takes photographs of Muriel to share with his colleagues back at Leatherhead, the appliance fitter headquarters.

As the play progresses there is indignation and counter-indignation as the various blossoming relationships are revealed to spouses and lovers. Muriel banishes Arthur from the family home for his intentions toward Felicity, Sir Percy threatens to have Arthur struck from the medical register and the Canon pleads with Connie to return to him. Felicity learns that Dennis is a hypochondriac and unlikely to die and Sir Percy glimpses Connie without her appliance and rejects her. The key to unravelling this maelstrom of hypocrisy is the arrival of Lady Rumpers, mother of Felicity, who manages to discover that Sir Percy was the locum with whom she had sexual relations under the table during an air raid in Liverpool just prior to boarding a ship to the colonies. Thus the identity of Felicity's father is revealed. Arthur's fortunes take a sudden turn for the better as a little quid pro quo is suggested, even more so when he discovers the photographs of Muriel taken by Shanks. Suffice to say that most people get what they wanted in the end, with the possible exception of Canon Throbbing.

The whole drama is narrated by Mrs Swabb, housekeeper to the Wicksteeds and representative of the working classes. Part of the irony was the maintenance of a higher moral standard by those who toil by the sweat of their brow as compared with the more privileged few. To aid Mrs Swabb in her castigation of the middle classes another character is introduced, Mrs Purdue, a manic depressive whose National Health status led to her plight and subsequent attempts at suicide being ignored by the good doctor.



The Cast

Arthur Wicksteed                       Iain Reddihough

Muriel Wicksteed                      Sarah Raymond

Dennis Wicksteed                    Matt Lim

Constance Wicksteed             Sheena Grant

Mrs Swabb                                 Liz Herdson

Cannon Throbbing                  John Britton

Lady Rumpers                          Enid Bibby

Felicity Rumpers                      Kerry Roussel

Mr Shanks                                 John Muxworthy

Sir Percy Shorter                      Matt Shearan

Mrs Purdue                               Anna Griffiths

Directed by Gordon Grant

Produced by Bob Bibby



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