THE HABIT OF ART: Alan Bennett
Birmingham Rep till 2 October, and touring
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval
Rview: Rod Dungate, 28 September 2010
Newly minted vintage BennettAt the end of the day, this is a very friendly play. Forget any notion of a play rehearsal – no rehearsal I’ve ever been in has been quite like this. But it doesn’t matter, in the bits that are nonsense, Bennett writes wonderful nonsense and the bits that aren’t nonsense are certainly worth waiting for.
A play about Britten and Auden is in rehearsal; it’s a play in which the writer (also present) explores their characters and relationship with the aid of a BBC interviewer – who will eventually write their biographies. A lot of other people are around too. So Bennett’s device allows him to explore Auden and Britten (and Auden with Britten) and to comment on it all too.
The result is quirky, irrational, at times dotty, but illuminating and thoroughly good theatre. We are led to think about public and private personas, people’s right to privacy (or not), the nature (and the habit) of art. And the nature of Auden’s and Britten’s sexual preferences is given a good airing – and that relationship with their art too. With the fun, then, is much food for thought.
Fitz (Auden) is stunningly created by Desmond Barrit – unpredictable, irrascible, irritating, lovable all rolled into one. Barrit commands the acting space and is mesmerising. Malcolm Sinclair creates Henry (Benjamin Britten) – he is a hundred times better than the ‘efficient performance’ his character says he is giving. Sinclair creates a BB who is distanced from both himself and us, and an actor playing BB who is warm and quietly, wickedly funny. Auden and Britten have long duologues that ebb and flow like great waves of music and leave you breathless. Great art.
Selina Cadell is a welcome member of the team, as long-suffering Stage Manager, running the rehearsal and with great aplomb and wit flitting into the action when required.
(Credits to Follow)