Ben­nett’s ex­plo­ration of friend­ship, ri­valry and heartache

Warwickshire Telegraph - - DANCE -

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.

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