by Alan Bennett.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 2 April 2013.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 8 November.
It has its pleasures, but Bennett far from his best.
As a `national treasure’, it’s probably invidious to even attempt to find fault with Alan Bennett. If I say that People is probably one of his saddest, most backward looking plays, that’s not to say that as usual there not are plenty of good jokes laced with Bennett’s customary peppery wit. And a certain hitting of a zeitgeist for an older generation, once part of swinging London, looking back in anger at what is lost and how things have changed.
Directed by Nick Hytner with a kind of desperate flamboyance, it’s a bit like watching ‘Antiques Roadshow’ meeting Harold Pinter on a bad night at the end of the pier or mistakenly caught in an old Carry On’.
Of course, being Bennett, it has its pleasures, not least the sight of three of our finest giving vintage performances as three embattled sisters – Selina Cadell as a female archdeacon, Linda Bassett as a delicious, if under-used, ancient half sister and Frances de la Tour, relishing every swish and waspish assault as the chatelaine of a decaying pile.
Bennett is a strange cove, still evidently enjoying épating les bourgeoisie who in turn adore him for his supposed outspokenness, these days mixed with a heavy dollop of vitriol,for the modern world. – People kept reminding me of the classic from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos, that "Hell is other people".
De la Tour’s Dorothy Stacpoole, a former, `swinging’ 1960s model – we see her later exchanging gumboots and ragged old raincoat for two wonderful gowns from the Balenciaga and Hardy Amies era – is aggressively dyspeptic about today’s modernisms, whether it’s in scorning phrases such as "bring it on" or the colonisation of old English values by today’s sell-out to commercialisation, of which the National Trust is Bennett’s current exemplar. For him, it’s the Trojan horse that has been and continues to be the great betrayer, buying up ancient monuments and covering them in fake aspic: "Gone should gone be and not fetched back," declares Dorothy as though pronouncing the final epitaph on England itself.
Poetic but also bathetic, this is a `state of the nation’ statement that leaves a worrying, disappointing taste in the mouth.
Dorothy Stacpoole: Frances de la Tour.
Iris: Linda Bassett.
June Stacpoole: Selina Cadell.
Bevan: Miles Jupp.
Ralph Lumsden: Nicholas de la Prevost.
Bishop: Andy de la Tour.
Mr Theodore: Peter Egan.
Bruce: Alastair Parker.
Les: Jack Chissick.
Nigel: Giles Cooper.
Louise: Frances Ashman.
Brit: Jess Murphy.
Colin: Robin Pearce.
Ensemble: Ellie Burrow, Philip Childs, Carole Dance, Barbara Kirby, Alexander Warner.
Director: Nicholas Hytner.
Designer: Bob Crowley.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Rich Walsh.
Movement: Jonathan Watkins.
Film: Jon Driscoll.
Digital art: Tim Blazdell.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey.
Two short plays Hymn (music: George Fenton) and Cocktail Sticks play in the Lyttelton from Nov 22 with Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett in both.
World premiere of People at the Lyttelton Theatre London 7 November 2012.