Tag Archives: Patrick Marber

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus


Menier Chocolate Factory

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 14th December 2021



“some of the laughs are misplaced today, but with a nod to its self-mocking humour, there is no doubt it is entertaining”


There is a jet-black coffin centre stage throughout Patrick Marber’s staging of Alan Bennett’s seminal seventies farce, “Habeas Corpus”. Symbolic or not of whether this revival will survive the kiss of life Marber smothers it with, its prominence is a distraction rather than a subtle reminder of Bennett’s underlying themes of mortality. “Habeas Corpus” is a play with two personalities; at once naturalistic, even touching the human chord, yet at the same time, a farce. The quiet, introverted musings on life are nearly always drowned out by the brash energy and seaside naughtiness of the comedy.

And energy is what this production certainly has, the key ingredient of farce – along with the extra marital shenanigans, mistaken identities, absurd situations, challenged respectability, and characters without their trousers. We are in GP Arthur Wicksteed’s home surgery in Hove. Richard Hudson’s blank, stark set allow us to imagine the draping of misogyny and sexism with which the doctor has furnished his house. We are introduced to the players by Ria Jones’ Mrs Swabb. Wicksteed would be a far more successful physician if he pursued his career as diligently as he pursues women. His wife, Muriel, is more assertive while his son is a timid hypochondriac who uses a fake terminal illness as a chat up line. Enter Connie, who has ordered a false pair of breasts to boost her confidence. Lady Rumpus is an expatriate, colonial figure, protective of her daughter Felicity while Canon Throbbing is a frustrated celibate who… well – his name says it all. Then there is Mr Shanks who arrives to fit Connie’s breasts, Sir Percy Shorter, a leading light in the medical profession out for revenge and Mr Purdue, a sick man who hangs over the proceedings like (and sometimes in) a noose.

Jasper Britton adds a bit of charm to his dated salaciousness. There is enough irony there to forgive him (the actor rather than the character). Catherine Russell’s Muriel has a light-hearted sparkle that occasionally flickers to reveal a more profound hurting. Kirsty Besterman is a joy to watch as the ‘spinster’ who believes the only way to a man’s heart is through her body; a tenet that is constantly reinforced by the men in the piece. Mercifully the entire cast play on the dated perceptions and, again, we forgive. The sheer entertainment value carries us along.

The sensation is like revisiting, after many years, a favourite pub that has since been refurbished. The new décor clashes with the fondness of memory. Marber has added a few twists that jar. Occasionally the poetic language bizarrely morphs into surreal song routines. The sadness and the cruelty behind the comedy are more hidden than they should be. Yet nostalgia is unreliable. Perhaps Bennett’s text was flawed back in the seventies. Perhaps not. Perhaps it still isn’t, and it is the times we live in that force us to judge it unfavourably. But that is another debate. If “Habeas Corpus” is a farce it certainly fulfils its purpose. Yes, some of the laughs are misplaced today, but with a nod to its self-mocking humour, there is no doubt it is entertaining. We just need to avoid politicisation for a couple of hours, be aware that all concerned have their tongue in their cheek, and enjoy.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan


Habeas Corpus

Menier Chocolate Factory until 27th February


Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
Brian and Roger | ★★★★★ | November 2021


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The Red Lion

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 6th November 2017



“Marber’s dialogue fizzes and dances with sharp exchanges and some hilarious moments”


I wouldn’t normally be keen to see a play about football, it’s not something I’m interested in. But this isn’t really a play about football. It’s about the tensions between community and business, between cooperation and self-interest. It’s about secrets and plots, honesty and lies. And it is very good indeed.

The set (Patrick Connellan) is the locker room of a non-league football club. The kit man and general behind the scenes helper Yates, played by John Bowler, is ironing football shirts. He has been involved in the club for years and values the volunteers and supporters. He has the Red Lion club mascot tattooed over his heart. Bowler is full of a tired passion and full of sadness for his lost past, when he was a star player at the club. He is involved in a power struggle with Stephen Tompkinson’s Kidd, the ambitious and driven manager of the club. Kidd sees the club as a business, one he can use to his advantage. He is not averse to bending the rules to line his own pockets. Yates and Kidd want different things from and for the new young player, Dean Bone’s vulnerable, determined Jordan. The three men are all damaged, all seeking better lives, all needing money.

Tomkinson is superb as Kidd. He is devastatingly funny, volcanically furious, and yet manages to show the vulnerability and anxiety that underlie his behaviour. We may despise his actions but we feel some sympathy for his human failings. John Bowler’s Yates is almost poetic in his despair and love for the club. He wants to become a mentor and support for Jordan, perhaps remembering his own glory days by nurturing the talent of the raw young man. Jordan’s self-containment and adherence to his Christian beliefs are tested and found wanting, Dean Bone finding the perfect balance of hope and uncertainty within the character of a young man scarred by violence.

This play, ably directed by Max Roberts, also reflects our changing society; the loss of the old type of football club with it’s community base and involvement, to the demands of profit and business are a metaphor for larger societal changes. Marber’s dialogue fizzes and dances with sharp exchanges and some hilarious moments, yet leaves us with a quiet sense of loss and endings. Red Lion is well worth watching and leaves the audience with food for thought.


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Mark Douet


Trafalgar Studios



is at Trafalgar Studios until 2nd December


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