REVIEW: ‘Habeas Corpus’, Octagon Theatre, Bolton, until November 12th

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YOU will have to move fast to get a ticket for Alan Bennett’s wonderful farce “Habeas Corpus” at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre.

David Thacker’s production of this 1970s comedy is hilarious. Bennett gives his own take on the famous Whitehall farces with Brian Rix et al, (which I actually remember seeing) complete with lots of doors, dropped trousers and mistaken identities.

But Bennett gives his own special interpretation and an underlying seriousness about the essential brevity of life. Most of the play is bitingly funny with some very clever use of rhyme in some of the more important speeches. There is no point in explaining the mad plot. Just sit back and enjoy it.

Enjoy also some accomplished comic acting. I am always delighted to watch anything with Russell Dixon in it. He was one of the best Lady Bracknells I have seen and here he is again in feminine disguise as Mrs Swabb, the housekeeper/narrator. Margot Leicester, fresh from the demands of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, takes on a completely different and successful role as the wife of Dr Wickstead (Rob Edwards).

Tobias Beer, whom I last saw in “Sweeney Todd” is great as the sex-starved Canon Throbbing. Colin Conner is terrific as the confused Mr Shanks and the whole cast play their parts with skilful timing and extract every possible laugh.

Ciaran Bagnall’s design using brightly painted beach huts give loads of opportunities for entrances and exits and the production is enriched by Howard Crossley’s double role as seaside organist and a man intent on suicide. No wonder it is so popular.

The Octagon’s Christmas production of “The Wizard of Oz” starts on November 18th and I am looking forward to taking some young friends to see it.

Box office: 01204 520661. Website: www.octagonbolton.co.uk

PIPPA MUNRO HEBDEN