Habeas Corpus – Chocolaterie Menier
Alan Bennett’s Habeas corpus is an English farce. Except no. Well, not quite. It’s a very funny comedy with tragic undertones on the theme of uncontrollable libidos. Sex, the backbone of all English pranks and many French pranks, animates the basic English characters who are all driven by lust except for the Welsh charlady, who leads the action with her Hoover.
It was Bennett’s genius to write a farce which, if you listen closely, is also, between the jokes, a serious play about England and the English. There’s a lot of laughter, and although several of the characters lose their pants – that wouldn’t be a prank unless someone does – they’re balanced by a pair of pneumatic breasts that appear and disappear.
What makes this farce bearable, at least in this production by Patrick Marber, is the absence of doors, furniture or stairs, the stuff of traditional farce, which always slows down the action but not here, where they are all replaced by a beautiful coffin.
The Welsh charlady who is both a narrator and a sort of Greek choir, is wonderfully played by an unrecognizable Ria Jones alongside Jasper Britton as the weary doctor of the world in the role created by Alec Guinness. The rest of the large Marber cast are equally strong and brilliantly organized into a cohesive whole. Some jokes won’t mean much to a young audience, but older people will love them.