Writer: Alan Bennet
Director: Philip Franks
Reviewer: James Eves
To be able to tell a captivating story for the theatre is one thing, it requires a lot of character, skill and time. Therefore, to be able to create two stories for the same play that run alongside one another at the same time, deserves twice the admiration.
To put it in its simplest terms, The Habit Of Art is a company of actors, acting as a company of actors, acting in a rehearsal for a new play about the meeting between poet W H Auden, and his old associate and friend Benjamin Britten. This is, however, putting the piece into its simplest terms. In reality, it is much more.
Writer Alan Bennet reaffirms himself as one of the nation’s finest by crafting a biography that gives us the details of the meeting, what was said and the history that was behind it all but without making it seem like a diary entry or a boring retelling of events. We see the story unfold through the eyes of “the actors” on stage, and whenever something occurs that needs more context, we are given it through these actors asking the “writer” what their motivation in the scene is. It’s very clever and altogether more entertaining to watch because of it.
The piece at times though, is quite wordy, with long parts of dialogue that would alienate certain demographics of potential audience members. These chunky parts of text go on for quite some time and for those invested in what is being said can be quite enjoyable, but if you’re not getting what is being said at the start, chances are by the end you won’t have gained much more of an understanding.
To aid with the delivery of this text though is a great cast, with a standout performance from Matthew Kelly as Fitz/W H Auden, who brings a depth to both characters at all times, and is never absent from any scene. The rest of the cast too, have their moments, and all offer something unique and charming that they bring to the fore.
To watch two worlds unfold in front of you at the same time is sometimes a bit difficult to get your head around, and for some, this will not be the play that does the best at making this an entertaining medium to try and do so. For others though, a meta script and grounded performances bridge the worlds effortlessly, and in doing so never detract anything from one another, and it’s through this that we discover the true meanings behind The Habit Of Art.
Runs Until 27 October 2018 | Image: Helen Maybanks