Play: The Habit of Art
Venue: York Theatre Royal
Review: Julia Pattison
Designer Adrian Linford had created a wonderfully realistic set with a recreation of a chaotic rehearsal space full of props and paraphernalia which greeted us all as we took our seats ready for the Original Theatre Company’s (in collaboration with York Theatre Royal) first revival since 2009 of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art.
Deftly directed by Philip Franks and featuring a stellar cast, Bennett’s characteristic wit and wistfulness came to life in this production as it explored many themes, including sex, ageing, friendship and rivalry.
There were multi layers in the play which featured a play-within-a play, cleverly written so that information we needed about Fitz/WH Auden (Matthew Kelly ) and Henry/Benjamin Britten (David Yelland) was delivered with great ease, and often great wit. Bennett took gleeful delight in portraying archetypal ego-driven actors, a playwright who despaired at what the actors were doing with his script (Robert Mountford), and a soothing, very astute stage manager, “tomorrow darling…” (Veronica Roberts).
You felt like a fly on the wall watching the actors and crew work on the rehearsal of the imagined meeting of two of Britain’s great artists, and there was a good balance between humour and pathos as you’d expect from Bennett.
Matthew Kelly was compelling in his performance of Fitz and W H Auden, with lots of light and shade, giving us a real insight into the minds of both the actor he was playing and W H Auden. David Yelland was the Yin to his Yang, and equally compelling in his roles of actor Henry and Benjamin Britten; the quiet, pithy interjections during rehearsals were a joy, and reminded me of the character of Sgt Wilson in Dad’s Army.
Veronica Roberts was excellent in her role as stage manager Kay; no doubt Bennett had seen many Kays at work over the years and Veronica was convincing in her performance. The talking furniture scene she was involved with too, alongside Alexandra Guelff who played George, assistant stage manager was a real highlight.
Some great comedy moments from John Wark, playing Donald, who played Humphrey Carpenter, and Benjamin Chandler playing Tim who played Stuart, and some really poignant moments too, from the whole cast at various points in the play.