Undies worn twice are not quite nice…

Too tired to write a proper review right now, but the Bolton Octagon’s production of Habeas Corpus is absolutely wonderful (and only running until Saturday, so go and see it IMMEDIATELY). I could easily gush for several paragraphs about the cast (Margot Leicester is back, following her sensational Martha with an equally sensational comic turn as the fabulously-bazoomed Muriel Wicksteed, but she’s one member of an ensemble here, and everybody is working at the same level), Ciaran Bagnall’s set – a row of beach huts – is inspired (the play is somewhat inspired by saucy seaside postcards; I once saw a production whose set, essentially, was an enormous pair of knickers) and provides ample opportunities for farcical door-slamming, and David Thacker’s direction doesn’t make a single false move. It’s one of Bennett’s funniest plays – sure, it has some serious points to make about sexual repression, marital infidelity and social hypocrisy, but it’s basically an out-and-out farce, parts of it are delightfully silly, and it’s thoroughly, wonderfully smutty. By the middle of the first act the underwear, falsies and double-entendres are all being flung around with abandon, and this cast plays it to the hilt.

It was also, on a Wednesday afternoon, very nearly sold out. It would be lovely to report that everybody behaved themselves, and nearly everybody did, but some of the behaviour I ranted about the other week was in evidence today as well. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how people who arrive late are always sitting very near the front. And some people, apparently, think the announcements about switching off mobile phones don’t apply to them. Quite a lot of people, judging by the pools of light scattered around the auditorium as the lights went down. One lady, sitting three seats from the wall in row B, house right, had a BlackBerry Torch. I was sitting in row G, about six seats closer to the centre than she was,  I never spoke to her or even saw her from the front, and I know she had a BlackBerry Torch. I know this, you may have guessed, because the selfish cow didn’t switch it off, and periodically checked her text messages during the show. If I could see it, so could the actors (and the front-of-house staff, come to that, who should have spoken to her at the interval but didn’t). She was probably the worst, but she was far from the only offender.

So, yes. Great production of a really good play. And if you’re lucky, you won’t encounter any idiots in the audience! Unfortunately, these days, I’m coming to the conclusion that bad manners at the theatre are more or less inevitable.

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3 thoughts on “Undies worn twice are not quite nice…

  1. I directed a production of Habeas back in the Stone Age; it was great fun for me and the cast and, despite a couple of not-quite-up-to-it thespians, was a big hit with audiences. As it’s a far from “actor-proof” play, I took our audiences’ laughter as validation that, at least, *I* got it. Glad you saw a good production; it’s just not done enough.

  2. It’s done reasonably regularly here – this is the third production of it I’ve seen (although the last one was in 1996… it was a fairly star-studded affair, though, with an ensemble that included Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent as the Wicksteeds, Celia Imrie as Lady Rumpers, and Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Swabb). And yes, I think it’s a really hard play to get right – there are some very odd shifts in tone, particularly right at the end, and I can see all kinds of other pitfalls. It could very easily come across as being shrill and/or tasteless, although I think the end-of-the-pier panto-for-adults tone is probably a little easier to find here than in North America (I can imagine you getting it absolutely right, it’s your sense of humour).

    I don’t think it’s Alan Bennett’s best play, but it might be my favourite, at least of his plays for multiple performers (there are a couple of the Talking Heads monologues I love more – ‘Bed Among the Lentils’, like everyone else, but also ‘The Outside Dog’, which is thoroughly chilling).

  3. Whatamatta? They couldn’t get any “names” for the show? What a cast!!!!

    Re: audience behavior, I believe this is why front-of-house staff should be armed.

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