Alan Bennett Honoured with Critics’ Biggest PrizeDate: 6 April 2006
At a luncheon held at the National Theatre for the Critics’ Circle Award – an annual honour voted on by all sections of the Circle, including film, dance and music as well as drama – the playwright received the famous glass bowl for Distinguished Service to the Arts and made a characteristically wry and funny speech rendered even more hilarious by interruptions on the public address system commanding people to take their seats for a matinee of Mike Leigh’s latest play.
The vice-president of the Circle, Mike Dixon, revealed that he once played the organ in the church where Bennett’s parents had been married, which leant the proceedings a rather bizarre air of both gratitude and appropriation.
Bennett then thanked the critics for giving him an easy time. The only difficult relationship he’d had, he said, was with the critic on his own shoulder; most of the plays he’d written were “slightly to the side” of the play he had set out to write.
He was often comforted, he said, by a dictum of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges to the effect that all the books he’d ever written were filled with a complex feeling of repentance: “You only remember what you didn’t manage to get written.”
There were only five or six things in his work that he wouldn’t change, Bennett said: two or three of the Talking Heads series; the television film of An Englishman Abroad; and The History Boys, which had its world premiere at the NT Lyttelton in May 2004 and, amongst its many awards to date, scooped Best Play at the Critics’ Circle Awards last year.
In his speech yesterday, Bennett lauded as “real blessings to this country” two great institutions with which he was proud to be associated: the National Gallery and the National Theatre. He was then mobbed by critics wishing him well and seeking his autograph.
- by Michael Coveney