Review: Cocktail Sticks, by Alan Bennett, at the National Theatre

Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Photo by Jayne West.

Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Photo by Jayne West.

Looking at the poster, you inevitably do a double take: Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett looks astoundingly like the real thing. It’s not the face, the hair or the glasses, it’s the posture. Shoulders low but a little stiff, hands close to the body, minimal and strictly necessary movement.

And then the performance starts and the voice seals the transformation. In years to come, when visual memory fades and echoic memory holds better, I will have a hard time connecting Alex Jennings with this performance. The voice is so much like Alan Bennett’s I need to make a point to remember it’s not the writer performing his own words. Continue reading

Review: People by Alan Bennett at the National Theatre

Frances de la Tour as Dorothy, Linda Bassett as Iris. Photo Alastair Muir

“Decay is a kind of progress”. Alan Bennett’s new play is about people: people you want around, people who spoil things, people who let you down, people who can’t turn back the clock or move forward.  And when it focuses on people, it does what an Alan Bennett play does best: sees in them colours nobody else can see.

The problem is the play often strays away and loses its way. There are points to be made and they are made again and again. Some characters, like Miles Jupp’s Bevan and Nicholas le Prevost’s Lumsden, are little more than mouthpieces and take up too much time. A cheeky business with an adult film is appropriately silly and perfectly enjoyable but eventually it can’t resist temptation (pun intended) and starts straining credibility.  There is repetition and deviation (even if it avoids hesitation), and in those moments the play feels vague, unsettled. Even time has a hazy quality: the characters talk about the past as if it is a fairy tale. Continue reading