Bennett’s exploration of friendship, rivalry and heartache
ALAN Bennett is one our greatest and most celebrated playwrights, with a cavalcade of stage and screen blockbusters including The History Boys, The Madness of King George and Talking Heads.
He is applauded as a genius for his sharp character observations and treasured for the way he beautifully balances wit, wistfulness and compassion.
In The Habit of Art, Bennett gives us a play about a meeting between the poet WH Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten, which explores friendship, rivalry and heartache.
It’s at the Belgrade Theatre until tomorrow.
The production, directed by Philip Franks, marks the first ever revival of the play and stars the Olivier Award winning Matthew Kelly (Of Mice and Men, Toast and Pride and Prejudice) and David Yelland (Chariots of Fire (which comes from the Irish word for ‘footstep’ and is pronounced ‘Kush Came’) have tackled a fairy story, as they previously pondered the fate of The Nutcracker’s Clara, placing their take in a modern office environment decades after the events of the original adventure.
For David, the idea of revisiting such stories harks back to an incident at primary school when a cartoon screening of Peter and The Wolf descended into mayhem as the film projector broke down.
As the assembled youngsters waited rowdily for a caretaker to fix the contraption, a teacher bellowed at them to be quiet, and David wondered...
“I started to imagine the people in the school as the characters of the story,” he recalls. “Our caretaker became the Grandfather, our teacher with the booming voice The Huntsmen, my cool friend The Wolf and me Peter.
“The story took on a whole new meaning. One that was immediate and felt real. One that spoke to me on a level that only I could experience because I had replaced the characters from the cartoon with the people around me. The people I knew.”
It was an experience that stayed with him.
“In years that followed and as I grew up, trained as a dancer and eventually became a choreographer, I often remember that lesson... putting stories into familiar surroundings to make them speak to people in a different way.”
Matthew Kelly and David Yelland in Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art.