‘People’ at the National Theatre

There are sometimes when I simply have to conclude that the people who write reviews for newspapers or other news outlets have seen a different production to the one I have endured, but I know that this is not the case for Mark Lawson on Radio 4, as he was sitting a couple of rows in front of me in the theatre.  Our reactions to the show, it seems, could not have been more different.

In fact, so astonishing have we found the praise accorded the play on the radio and in a couple of newspapers, that the friend with whom I went to the theatre, and I keep having to send each other text messages expressing our surprise each time we come across any.

As we had walked out of the theatre, I had apologised for being the one to have chosen this, Alan Bennett’s new play; and my friend remarked that she would be able to tell a mutual acquaintance of his lucky escape.  And yet it seems others think it’s terribly funny and a biting satire (largely, I think, because it takes a bad tempered pop at the National Trust).

Set in a crumbling stately home, two elderly ladies, Dorothy Stacpoole and her companion, Iris, sit by a single element electric fire dressed in a crazed assortment of layered clothing.  Something must be done to save the property before it falls down.  There are, it seems, only three options: give it to the National Trust, sell it to a mysterious wealthy conglomerate who will keep people out because they only spoil things, or to rent it out to a pornographic film maker.

Dorothy’s sister, some sort of superannuated Anglican vicar, wants to do the deal with the National Trust, while Dorothy prefers the wicked ways of the pornographer, believing that such naughtiness with put off the puritanical Trust, who need a good wholesome place from which to sell their scones and t-towels.  She hates the way they create nostalgia for ‘heritage Britain’, she prefers that the past be taken for granted.

But no, it turns out that these days the Trust likes nothing more than a bit of smut, and a collection of chamber pots filled by house guests from the great and the good from the past is of particular interest.

It felt like a series of sketches.  There were a couple of one liners that other people in the audience seemed to find amusing, lots of tedious innuendo about the mechanics of porn acting, a tiresomely predictable moment when a Bishop arrived to look around when the flick was being filmed, several overly long speeches, but no emotional depth, little with which to have sympathy, and a silly ending.

If all this sounds moderately amusing, it might well have been in a half hour TV special, but not as two and a half hour show on a big stage with a huge cast.

Some commentators have suggested that Bennett has bridled at the suggestion that he has mellowed into a national treasure himself, and that writing this play, ranting against a variety of things that annoy him, is his way of proving that he isn’t ever going to be cosy.  Maybe some of his audience do believe that criticising the National Trust is a radical thing to do; and maybe they will leave the theatre feeling a frisson of something controversial.

I was bored, and if it hadn’t been for the sheer wonder of listening to Frances de la Tour’s voice, there would have been little to commend it.

What did you think of it?

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2 Comments

  1. Well, I certainly won’t be going to see it based on your review Rowena! I often have the same experience when I wonder if I’ve seen/read the same thing as other people, although where theatre is concerned if I see the play I often feel reviewers were overly harsh. It’s become fashionable to have a dig at the National Trust, and if done very briefly as in the play POSH it can be quite funny, but sounds like it was very dragged out in this drama.

    Reply
    • Although I didn’t like the play at all, in a way I’d quite like others to tell me that they had enjoyed it, even if I cannot fathom why so many professional reviewers have given it 4 stars, and described it as funny. I wouldn’t want to overly influence you – merely provide an alternative view!

      Reply

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