Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Patrick Marber
London has been treated to some top-notch time machine drama recently. Abigail’s Party has not long closed at the Park Theatre and now Alan Bennett’s outrageous 1973 farce Habeas Corpus plays until February at the Menier, delivering a masterclass in cruel comedy theatre.
To summarise the plot of Habeas Corpus in a way that avoids spoilers is nigh on impossible. Suffice to say, Bennett takes the premise of the (very) finite frailty of all human life, and around a bevy of 2-dimensional characters, weaves the fabric of a 3-D narrative that is simply glorious in its detailed relief. This play harks back to an unfettered, saucy seaside-postcard era, free of political correctness, when the human condition could be a source of comedy.
Male inadequacies, middle-aged fantasies, breast-sizes and even mental health are all the targets of Bennett’s incisive pen and in the hands of a lesser cast the evening could so easily have been rendered crass and tawdry. But Patrick Marber moulds his luxuriously cast company into a cohesive thing of beauty, whose acting is beyond flawless and whose timings have clearly been meticulously rehearsed to perfection.
In a medley of smut and trouser-dropping hilarity, Bennett lays bare the hypocrisies of the British class system, the medical profession and the vanities of both the sexes. Marriage, mortality and fidelity are all fair game and in these current times, where shows frequently carry content warnings, it would be as well to caution that this play will melt snowflakes. The evening will only be enjoyed by those who are able to leave their prejudices at the Menier’s door.
The cast of 11 are all magnificent, professionals at the top of their game who like interlinking cogs make the evening run like clockwork. For five-star theatre of pure escapism and which holds up a mirror to us all, this is the perfect adult pantomime. Unmissable entertainment
Runs until 26th February 2022
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan