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River City Press Review of Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus
Review by Patrick Drabczynski

There is a wonderful and rare creative spirit in Wanganui which brings all manner of people together with a unified goal. That spirit filled the Repertory Theatre on Saturday night in a delightful evening of stiff lipped lasciviousness, oodles of subversive word play and double entendre galore as Repertory performed Habeas Corpus to a small but enthralled audience.

Bennett’s farcical examination of the repressed English sexual psychology has had audiences in stitches for almost four decades, and Saturday evening was no different. Habeas Corpus’ convoluted plot of romantic entanglements is complex to say the least, and praise goes to the cast and production team for pulling off such a fast paced sequence of action so convincingly.

However, it must be said the performances of three actors alone sealed the success of this performance. Patrick O’Connor donned the role of the affably detached, forgivably lustful Doctor Wicksteed with a certain knowing that only comes from experience. The timing of his delivery of Wicksteed’s quick repartee strengthened as the play wore on and by the second half be found the perfect pitch; ensuring a comic and very believable portrait of the character.

His insufferable – and in turn long suffering – pompous and irrepressible wife. Mrs Wicksteed, was masterfully portrayed by Kerry O’Sullivan. Her stuffy, middle class haughtiness was skilfully infused with an egregious animal voracity that made for tear wrenching belly laughter. Kerry’s vast range of accurate facial expressions, her excellent home-counties accent, the subtlety of her line delivery, and the fluidity and realism with which she drew on this repertoire of masks was little short of brilliant.

Only Linda Kerfoot knows why she lives in Wanganui performing amateur dramatics at the Repertory when she could easily be on the boards of London’s West End theatres. She has such presence on stage it is unnerving and I have sincere doubts as to whether Mrs Swabb has ever been portrayed with more accuracy. Kerfoot wore her like a glove.

Her mastery of the subtleties of the estuary English accent was key to the success of this character – it is very difficult even for a Londoner to avoid sounding like a caricature. Through pitch-perfect line delivery, expert timing, her faultless expressions and the graceful poise of a seasoned professional Kerfoot displayed a deep understanding of her character that was a thrill to witness.

An amateur theatrical production this may have been, but the stage set was nothing short of professional. The production team conjured the kind of interior space that haunts my memories of childhood visits to suburban English doctors in cavernous old Victorian townhouses.

A complete success and a must see for the people of Wanganui.

Review posted with the kind permission of the River City Press.