The Chichester Players stage Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus.

Director Barry
Director Barry

Director Barry Jarvis will be taking rather a different approach when he returns to Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus.

Six years ago, he directed it in Arundel for the Arundel Players. Now he returns to the play with the Chichester Players with performances on Wednesday, March 29, Thursday March 30, Friday, March 31 at 7.30pm and on Saturday, April 1 at 2.30 and 7.30pm at Chichester’s New Park Centre.

“It was something I wanted to do with the Chichester Players, and I had a couple of choices. I came up with this, and everybody seemed very happy. It’s one of those plays where it is probably being done every single weekend somewhere in England!

“I have done a bit more research on it, and I have looked into the characters a bit more, but it certainly does help having done it before. I have chosen this time to play it for the comedy rather than going for the deeper, underlying layer.

“There is certainly another layer to the play if anybody cares to look for it, and that other layer is the fact that Dr Wicksteed and Mrs Wicksteed are very melancholic figures when you think about it, rather than straight characters.

“And I think we did achieve that in the Arundel production.

“But this time we are playing it more for the comedy, a bit faster, still with hints of the sadness, but much more for the comedy.”

Habeas Corpus was first performed at the Lyric Theatre in London on May 10 1973, with Alec Guinness in the central role, since when it has become a classic of its kind.

“The play almost directs itself,” Barry says. “It has got terrific pace to it, and it has got some wonderfully over-the-top characters. And it has got some wonderful pastiches of different styles of comedy. There is Noel Coward in there, and there is definitely Joe Orton. I would say that you can definitely see the influence of What The Butler Saw.

“There is also a pastiche of Betjeman’s poems, and the relationship with Lady Rumpers (Joan Sanderson in the original production) and her daughter Felicity could almost be Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest. I think Bennett wove into it all these pastiches of different comedies and different styles of comedy, and there is certainly a bit of Oscar Wilde in there.

“And there is also a lot of Brian Rix drop-your-trousers style comedy. About three members of the cast drop their trousers at some point!”

It’s saucy and it’s seaside postcard humour, Barry promises.

“This was after 40 Years On, and Bennett was never really happy with it. It was never one of his favourites, but it is paying his pension now. I think he found it too trite. He probably found that it was not really the style that he then went on to write. It stands alone as a piece that he hasn’t ever revisited. But I think he had a lot of fun with it with all the different comedic styles that you get in the piece.

“The cast I have got are an extremely-talented group. I could not have asked for a better cast. I am quite good, I think, at casting, and I am very pleased with the people I have got. They are doing alright. We just need to keep the pace up. The pace has to be relentless… but not so relentless that the audience doesn’t have time for the laughs. I think it is going to be good.”

Tickets are available via the Chichester Cinema at New Park box office and are priced at £10 for adults and £6 for under 18s.

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