Birmingham Rep reopens after a period of redevelopment, thanks to the building of the brand new Library of Birmingham next door providing a new joint foyer and a new performance space, with the opening of the National Theatre's production of Alan Bennett's play People before embarking on a UK tour.
On paper the synopsis of the play is a strange, and possibly boring one; a set of sisters arguing about what will happen to their family's stately home. However thanks to Bennett's powerful ability at making the most mundane circumstance interesting and exciting and this is shown within this production. The play is full of Bennett's typical funny lines mixed amongst moments of real poignancy while also making social and political commentary towards circumstances the characters find themselves in.
Siân Phillips is exceptional as Dorothy Stacpoole, a former model who has grown old (possibly distastefully) and now lives in the family's run down stately home with her companion Iris (Brigit Forsyth) and is warring with her arch-deacon sister June (Selina Cadell) over whether to give the house to the National Trust or to explore other alternatives. The first half does drag slightly with the back and forward of the argument until, by chance, Dorothy meets an old friend Theodore (Paul Moriarty) who is scouting for locations for a film he is making. The play then picks up momentum with the second half beginning with the shooting of said film. For the duration of this scene the audience were in fits of laughter due to the nature of the film, the naivety of Dorothy and Iris to the situation unfolding and the farcical aspects that occur. The play does slow back down, but does so in style with a brilliant and effective renovation of the set setting up the powerful ending.
As previously said Phillips is exceptional in the central part of Dorothy, but Forsyth steals the show as dotty, confused and easily excitable Iris. Her comic timing and the characteristics she brings to the part made me want to watch her throughout even when the main action was elsewhere on stage. The rest of the cast are all fantastic bringing the smallest roles to life with flare. Bob Crowley's design is absolutely stunning, with so many little details being included in such a large and effective set.
- Jonathan Wright