Thursday, October 28, 2010

'The Habit of Art’ by Alan Bennett

28 October 2010

Last Friday we were at Milton Keynes Theatre to see the National Theatre production of Alan Bennett’s latest play ‘The Habit of Art’. My expectations were high, as I had been looking forward to seeing how Alan Bennett and director Nicholas Hytner would follow their success with ‘The History Boys’, but I’m afraid I was a bit disappointed. ‘The Habit of Art’ deals with a meeting between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten in their later years to discuss Britten’s new opera, ‘Death in Venice’. But this is actually a play within a play as ‘The Habit of Art’ is set within a National Theatre rehearsal room, showing the actors who will play Auden and Britten rehearsing their lines. This allows for constant interruptions from the stage manager, other actors and the play’s fictional author which creates some clever ambiguities as the ‘actors’ move seamlessly in and out of character. There’s plenty of the dry humour you expect from Bennett and the complexities of integrating this framing device are impressively achieved. But I found the result a little too self-conscious and a bit lacking in plot to drive it forward. In ‘The Lady in the Van’ Bennett famously put two ‘Alan Bennetts’ on stage: in ‘The Habit of Art’ it seemed like there at least four Alan Bennetts vying for our attention (the ‘author’, Auden, Britten, and their biographer, Humphrey Carpenter). Nevertheless, the cast were excellent, particularly Desmond Barrit who had great fun playing Richard Griffiths as ‘Fitz’ as WH Auden.

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