Auditions – Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett

Auditions – Thurs. 26th 7.30pm to 9.00pm and Sunday 29th 19.30am to 11.45am

Production dates: 12th to 15th September

Cast: 6m, 5f

The action takes place in and around the Wicksteeds’ house in Hove, on the south coast of England.

Mrs Swabb, who combines the functions of cleaner and all-knowing Fate, introduces the main characters. Wicksteed is 53, has an eye for the ladies and lacks ambition; his wife, Muriel, is a more assertive figure; their son, Dennis, is a wimpish hypochondriac, frustrated at his lack of a girlfriend; Connie is a flat-chested spinster who secretly longs to be sexually alluring; Sir Percy Shorter, President of the British Medical Association, was once Muriel’s sweetheart and he bears a grudge against Wicksteed for cutting him out; Lady Rumpers is a returning expatriate, concerned for the purity of her beautiful daughter Felicity; Canon Throbbing is anxious to abandon his celibate state, which he finds a strain to keep up.[7]

Meeting Felicity for the first time, Wicksteed is instantly consumed with lust for her, and attempts to arrange a tête-à-tête. Muriel finds her old feelings for Shorter rekindled and she too plots a rendezvous. A parcel arrives for Connie: it contains a pair of false breasts. Felicity makes a pass at Dennis and they go off together. Mr Shanks, the fitter from the false-breast manufacturer, arrives and mistaking Muriel for his client rhapsodises about and handles her substantial bust, until realising his mistake. Muriel, aroused to a predatory frenzy, pursues Shanks until interrupted by the arrival of Shorter, who misreading the situation injects Shanks with a powerful tranquilliser. Connie has put on her padded breasts, which make her feel suddenly attractive and confident to the point of brazenness. She mistakes Shorter for the fitter, and invites him to handle her bust. He is aroused and is discovered trouserless by Canon Throbbing, whom he attempts to tranquilise, pursuing him offstage with a hypodermic. Dennis and Felicity declare their intention to marry, but he is sent away by Wicksteed, who then attempts to seduce Felicity. Shorter catches him in the act and threatens to have him disciplined and barred from medical practice. Muriel joins in the denunciation and the uproar is increased by a suicide attempt by Wicksteed’s patient Mr Purdue, who is trying to hang himself as Lady Rumpers enters.

Act Two continues the action from the same point. Lady Rumpers removes Felicity, Muriel tells Wicksteed to leave the family home, Throbbing and Shorter argue about which of them is to marry Connie until she enters without her prominent false bust, at which Shorter renounces her. Muriel relents and allows Wicksteed to remain, provided he resumes his long-neglected conjugal duties. Shanks comes round from the tranquiliser administered by Shorter and denounces Muriel as a sex-maniac. Wicksteed tells her that it is now she who must leave the family home. Lady Rumpers arrives to remove Felicity, who has returned to find Dennis. It emerges that Felicity has just had sex with Dennis. She finds him repulsive, and has agreed to marry him only because she is already pregnant, wants an official father for her child, and has been led to believe that Dennis has a fatal illness that will soon leave her as a widow. Lady Rumpers is aghast and reveals that history is repeating itself: she was seduced when young and made a marriage of convenience to give Felicity a legal father. Shorter makes a casual comment that leads to the discovery that he was the seducer and is Felicity’s father. Wicksteed, having the upper hand, forces Shorter to back down over his disciplinary threat. It emerges that Dennis’s imagined fatal illness is real, and Felicity agrees to go ahead with the marriage. Throbbing and Connie also pair off, and Wicksteed is left alone to reflect on the transience of human life and the importance of seizing sexual opportunities whenever possible: “He whose lust lasts, lasts longest”. The stage goes dark; a spotlight plays on Wicksteed, who “dances alone in the spotlight until he can dance no more.”[

For more information, please contact the Director, Val Greaves.

Our Country’s Good – 4 – 7 April

Our Country’s Good, by Timberlake Wertenbaker, is a play that begins in the hold of the vessel Sirius, a convict ship. The ship is on its way to Australia, where the British Empire notoriously shipped criminals to get them away from the British Isles. At the start of the play, convicts aboard the Sirius witness a flogging and speak fearfully about what lies ahead. In Australia, in Sydney Cove, an Aboriginal Australian comments on the arrival of the first fleet and the British Empire’s presence in Australia. At first, he is curious, but that curiosity soon turns to confusion and fear.

The play then focuses on four British men who have just arrived in Sydney. Their ranks and names are Governor Arthur Philip, Captain Watkin Tench, Captain David Collins, and Midshipman Harry Brewer. They are engaged in a debate about the purpose of imprisonment. On one side of the debate is the idea that it is to punish criminals—on the other side, that it exists to rehabilitate them. They also debate whether or not criminals are born as such, or whether crime is a learned behavior. Tench tells the others that the convicts are entertained by hangings, so the governor orders the midshipman to find a hangman. There are three criminals who have been found guilty of stealing food, and they will be hanged. But the governor also wants the convicts to put on a play, as less violent entertainment.

Our Country’s Good features a play within a play. Other dramatic works that do this include A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and Noises Off by Michael Frayn, among many others.

Harry has two of the three thieves hanged, but then is filled with guilt. One of the thieves, whose name was Handy Baker, was after the adoration of a woman Harry also pursues. Her name was Duckling Smith, and she was a convict. Harry shares the governor’s plan to put on a play with Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark. Ralph decides he will lead the convicts in performing the play. He thinks if he does this, the governor will notice him and perhaps grant him favor. For the play, Ralph selects The Recruiting Officer, a comedy written by George Farquhar during the Restoration period in England, which took place during the latter half of the seventeenth century.

As Ralph casts convicts in the play, officers continue to debate criminality and punishment. Some of them oppose the performance of a play, while others support it. They vote as to whether or not the play should continue, and a majority vote in favor of it, so Ralph is allowed to continue his work and to plan the rehearsals.

Duckling gets a part in the play by complaining about Harry’s attentions. Several of the other female characters argue. One of them cannot read; another feels unequal to playing the part she’s been given. The hangman, whose name is James “Ketch” Freeman, tells Ralph that he’s innocent of the charges that landed him Australia. He doesn’t want to be a hangman, but when he was convicted he was told he had to hang or be hanged. One thing after another goes wrong, and the first rehearsal is a complete mess that leads to many of the convicts being imprisoned. Because of this, Ralph wants to put a stop to the play. He tells Philip this, but Philip insists he continues the play. He wants to prove that incarceration can have a rehabilitating effect on convicts and believes the play will serve that purpose.

Meanwhile, Harry is visited by the ghosts of the two men he had hanged. Ralph begins a second rehearsal, during which some of the convicts show improvement in their roles while Ross humiliates some of the others, forcing them to show off their scars from being flogged. Harry and Freeman prepare for the third hanging. A woman named Liz is to be executed for stealing food, but she insists she is innocent of the charge. Harry is continuously visited by ghosts and he collapses. When Ketch returns to the play, the other convicts refuse to act with him because he’s the hangman. The rehearsal ends.

As is common with plays within plays, the characters also discuss the purpose of a play. Is it to entertain? Instruct? Satirize? Each of the officers has his own ideas of what a play’s purpose should be.

Duckling swears to love Harry, but when he collapses, he dies. Ralph and a convict, Mary, rehearse privately, which leads to their confessions of mutual love. The officers discuss Liz’s fate, and allow her one more opportunity to speak up and defend herself. Collins insists they have a retrial but Liz delays with a promise to perform in the play anyway. Before the play begins, the convicts discuss their plans for afterward. Some want to try to escape. Others plan futures together. The play begins and, from the start, receives uproarious applause.

Highly theatrical, often funny and at times dark and disturbing, it sets an infant civilisation on the stage with clarity, economy and insight – DAILY TELEGRAPH
Wertenbaker has searched history and found in it a humanistic lesson for hard modern times: rough, sombre, undogmatic and warm – THE SUNDAY TIMES
A play that says, yes, the theatre is important, a boon to civilisation. A touching tale that almost seems too incredible to be true. A fascinating spectacle – NEW YORK TIMES
Winner of the Laurence Olivier – PLAY OF THE YEAR AWARD – 1988 and the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award – premiered at the Royal Court 1988 and transferred to the Garrick in 1989 – opened to great acclaim in New York in 1991.
It is a Contemporary Classic and one which is studied in schools as a set text.
It is based on the novel by Thomas Keneally – THE PLAYMAKER – it is based on actual events and the characters are real.

Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling

Young Arden alumnus, Tom Burke, was on our TV screens this evening playing Cormoran Strike in the BBC adaptation of Robert Galbraith’s (aka JK Rowling) detective story, Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling.

The next two episodes will air over the course of the next week and will be available on BBC iPlayer.

We’re delighted to see Tom’s career going from strength to strength and take a teeny bit of pride in seeing him put in another compelling performance.

Bravo Tom!


Photo credit: BBC

Thank you Mary!

At the AGM last night Mary Caryer retired as Chair of the Committee after 11 years in the post (this time around). Her association with the Arden goes back to the days of the fundraising effort to build the original theatre back in the 70s and early 80s (she’ll never forgive me for posting this publicity shot from ‘back in the day’).

Mary will continue to be seen at the theatre, but we hope she enjoys a well earned break from her duties at the helm.

Thank you for all your hard work Mary, don’t be a stranger!

Mary says…

I’ve been threatening to retire from the Arden chair for some time, and now I’ve finally done it. My thanks to you all for being so supportive over the past eleven years – and my very best wishes to the new management team.

I really was touched by the flowers, chocs and wine. Thanks and thanks again.