PEOPLE: Alan Bennett
National Theatre On Tour To 16 November 2013
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, Birmingham Rep, 09 09 13
Quirky, funny, dark – and teeming with wit and ideas.
Alan Bennett’s latest play is intriguing. It’s dark and very funny – with witty reposts and one-liners sharp arrows that fly regularly through the air, sometimes so sharp we wince as we laugh. The plot is quirky, possibly creaky. The theme – changing Britain, the loss of esteem, loss of British values or what it means to be British, is one Bennett has approached before; in PEOPLE it’s darker though, really dark.
Lady Dorothy Stacpoole, impoverished, ex model, lives in the crumbling family home with her companion. Her sister, June, lesbian, is an Arch Deacon, but doesn’t live at home. The family struggles to know how to survive – sell up, sell to the National Trust? How can they get the central heating working, or even the boiler to give them warm baths?
Bennett weaves an unlikely, but often hilarious, tale. His power of invention is in no way diminished and his main characters are endearingly and annoyingly eccentric.
It cannot be clearer that the Stacpooles, their house, their dilemmas are emblematic of the state of Britain in the 21st Centre as we try to find our position in a newly aligning world. It is a delight to experience Bennett’s teasing of us with the idea. Lady Dorothy frequently says: ‘I’m not a metaphor.’ Oh yes you are, dear, I know that although you may not!
As Lady Dorothy, Sian Phillips is a joy. She creates an easeful authority in her world, and her timing is impeccable. Selina Cadell (June) and Brigit Forsyth (Iris, the companion) complete the leading trio; they work beautifully together, creating rich variety.
At the end of our fun, Bennett leaves us saddened. The Stacpoole residence is saved but rests on a precarious pillar of coal, and everything and anything is packaged and neatly presented in the interests of empty ‘heritage’. We are little more than a hollow, and often dishonest, museum. It is demeaning, but, apparently, it’s all we have left. Discuss.
Ensemble: Alan Booty
Bishop: Robin Bowerman
Bevan: Simin Bubb
Nigel: Danny Burns
Brit: Ellie Burrow
June Stacpoole: Selina Cadell
Ensemble: Clare Clifford
Ensemble: Andrew Coppin
Iris: Brigit Forsyth
Louise: Endy McKay
Les: Adrian McLoughlin
Theodore: Paul Moriarty
Ensemble: Anneli Page
Dorothy Stacpoole: Sian Phillips
Bruce: Ieuan Rhys
Ralph Lumsden: Michael Thomas
Ensemble: Tamara Ustinov
Colin: Alexander Warner
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting Designer: James Farncombe
Sound Designer: Rich Walsh
Movement Director: Jonathan Watkins
Short Film: Jon Droscoll
Revival Director: Drew Mulligan