The Habit of Art Review – Alan Bennett’s Deep Piece in a Room | Theater

IIt was in 1972. In the halls of the Oxford college of the poet WH Auden, an unexpected visitor arrived, the composer Benjamin Britten, who was preparing an opera on the short story. Death in Venice by Auden’s stepfather, Thomas Mann. The two great artists have not met for 30 years. In the bedrooms (but not all at the same time) also come two housekeepers, a hire boy and a BBC interviewer, Humphrey Carpenter (who later became a biographer of the two men), who recounts the meeting. Sound artsy-fartsy? It’s not. Alan Bennett sidesteps intelligibility by presenting the action of his 2009 drama as a play within a play. The result is a take on life, sexuality, death and everything that is witty, moving, funny aloud, and soberly deep.

In a crowded parish hall, four actors meet to rehearse. Two others being absent, the director and her assistant also replace the director (the director directs the rehearsal), but the playwright introduced himself. Unwanted changes have been made to its text. This framing device is both practical and fun. It allows the fictitious society, worrying about characters, lines, actions, to convey a background. It allows ideas and feelings to ricochet between the two actions, amplifying reverberations in the real world: the habit of art is the habit of life.

The inconspicuous direction of Philip Franks is true to the text, his cast is uniformly stunning. All deserve to be mentioned, space only allows it: Matthew Kelly and David Yelland brilliantly essentialize Auden and Britten; Veronica Roberts, as a director, is the strong pivot around which everything balances.

The Habit of Art is on tour until December 1