Thank goodness I'm not the only one! The 2 and 3 star reviews above say it all. I saw it at The Lowry two days after the most wonderful production of Stoppard's Arcadia (Manchester Library Theatre, directed by Chris Honer)... Stoppard, with lightness of touch, said an amazing amount about nearly everything... To me, Bennett said an amazing amount about precious little of any importance... - Donald Judge
10 Oct 10
amazing. GO SEE IT! loved the play within a play concept, which allows the 'actors' and 'crew' to comment on the material. very poignant ending. fab original cast and isn't Stephen Wight a little cutie! catch it on tour in the Autumn! - PG
05 May 10
Round two! Much better second time around. The whole piece seemed tighter, well it has run in. Seeing it once already helped. Mr Bennett is undoubtedly a genius. Richard Griffiths lost the Hector ghost that seemed to haunt him before and Alex Jennings' is a model of restraint as Britten. 10/10 - rds
04 Apr 10
Felt like Ernie Wise (The Play What I Wrote) mixed with Mark Ravenhill. Entertaining, but I couldn't see any point to it. - addicted to theatre
29 Jan 10
My expectations may have been too high? This is not The History Boys and I suspect I was not the only one in the audience thinking that on Friday night. Like Gareth James I too couldn't help wondering what Michael Gambon would have made of the part and after a little while I began to wish he hadn't pulled out for there is far too much of Hector about Richard Griffith's performance and having Mrs Lintott there too doesn't help either. Sure Alan Bennett has produced some juicy lines, but it is all very contrived and, I am sad to say, seemingly played for cheap laughs. Let's hope Mr Bennett hasn't lost his touch, only his way. You will need to pay strict attention or risk getting lost in the plot so perhaps avoid alcohol if you can, well, at least until the interval! And one other thing, what is it with his obsession with characters whom have a penchant for boys, is he trying to tell us something about himself? - rds
25 Jan 10
4.5 if available. For once, the play-within-a-play device works as it makes sense of a fictitious reunion between Auden and Britten and allows a discussion of Death in Venice to act as a metaphor fot their different attitudes to their sexuality, which had caused the falling-out so many years before. The structure also provides an excuse for exposition so it is not necessary to have any prior knowledge of the life or works of either Auden or Britten. Alan Bennett's script is thoughtful, witty and frequently downright filthy and includes some wonderful theatrical in-jokes, mostly at the expense of the pretentious writer. Bennett slightly resembles Auden - Richard Griffiths certainly doesn't (even in a hysterical mask) but he and Alex Jennings are wonderful as the two leads and there is excellent support from Adrian Scarborough, Stephen Wight and especially Frances de la Tour. Not quite vintage Bennett but still far superior to the vast majority of new plays on offer elsewhere. - David Baxter
12 Jan 10
Well. Isn't this lovely! Coming to the theatre and having a rip rollicking time watching an Allen Bennett play. Oh!! It's like a play within a play. The play is one big theatrical anecdote and the play within the play is, like, about art and shit. OOHH, was that a swear word in an Allan Bennett play, well that may get passed the 1,200 liberals in the audience. OOOHHH, was that a sequence of cock gags.... well, that is 'forward looking'!... OOOOHHHH is it STILL going!! I cant believe that half these actors are still alive, let alone speaking. AH!! It's finished. Well that was.... no no no... it's still on.... AAHH! NOW it's finished..... NO NO NO.. Frances de La 'stolen the WHOLE show' tour is having a monologue because she hasn't had one yet, and then, after all, she IS a former actress now all knowing stage manager. In the play. Not in real life. It would be awfull if she were a stage manager in real life, because then, stage management would be like, fun. You know, because, like, life and art are like the same thing, even though they are different... Lovely! it's finished. Well that was both symbolic and fun. lets go and get completely twatted on booze and watch porn. - Cassox
03 Jan 10
This isn't Premiere League Bennett, but it's still one of the best new plays this year. What makes it a winner is the cleverness of play-within-a-play structure and some absolutely cracking lines. Looking at Richard Griffiths, I'm afraid I couldn't help thinking what Michael Gambon would have made of the part. Alex Jennings role is a bit under-written, Stephen Wight is excellent, but its Frances de la Tour who really holds it all together. - Gareth James
19 Dec 09
I went there on Dec 10th and enjoyed every minute of it. Top acting, comic moments but also deep situations.
England's people should feel proud having such actors and actresses and productions. - Pit, Germany
15 Dec 09
I didn't think Alan Bennett could ever write a better play than 'The History boys', but he has done so. He has said that he identifies more with Britten than with Auden, but it is Auden who comes over as the more sympathetic character, and that is entirely due to the extraordinary performance of Richard Griffiths. The initial disappointment at the withdrawal of Michael Gambon has been entirely forgotten; I can't imagine that Gambon could have done it any better. Alex Jennings as Britten slightly overdoes the prissiness, I feel. Frances de la Tour as the stage manager and Adrian Scarborough as a bemused Humphrey Carpenter are, as always, first-rate. The play has everything: humour, a debate on the ethics of biography, a discussion on the relative importance of words and music in opera and the necessity of just 'keeping on'. But most moving is the portrayal of encroaching old age and its effect on two of the world's greatest artists - an issue which Bennett himself must be much exercised by in his 75th year. It also has Bennett's characteristic lack of sentimentality and complete honesty. It is a joy from beginning to end. The best play from the National for many a year. - sc
09 Dec 09
Well, it couldn't have been written by anyone else.
The perennial themes – the insecure outsider, literature, young boys. The trademark recycling - “I saw a bishop with a moustache the other day”: Forty Years On, forty years on – the caller misunderstood: Habeas Corpus – and even “Theatre, magic of ...” recalls Her Big Chance.
Above Auden's “shit-heap” of a room, Britten's puritanical piano with a wooden chair by it. A rent-boy arrives from the agency. An auditioning treble sings from The Turn of the Screw. Both men, on their different levels, are seeing boys. The spires of Oxford thrust urgently into the sky behind. And surrounding the stage are giant manuscripts, notes.
But this is Caliban's Day, the play we never see.
Much fun is had with the pitfalls of working with the author, with the difficulty of learning lines, and with the rehearsal process, complete with prompts and reading in – two actors are off doing Chekhov, so we see Stage Management, and Jennings, filling in as the college servants, the furniture, the famous facial fissures and the children of the artists: their compositions. Some of this writing is dire, presumably satirically so. Elsewhere, though, the fictional playwright has written some superb passages, and here the device seems to fade to let Bennett speak.
It would be interesting to know how the shape of the play developed. At what stage did the rehearsal device appear, or Carpenter. Was the mask for Auden ever a serious possibility ? What difference did the replacement of Gambon make ? And did these two giants, contemplating death at the end of their career, have special resonance for Alan Bennett, who has now outlived them both by ten years or so. - Michael Gray
20 Nov 09
Disappointing. The gay jokes and general campery were tiresome, the meta-theatrical frame irritating. Griffiths did a good job, but Jennings overstated. Better to go back to the biographies. Kafka's Dick had very similar themes, though I suppose it is allowable for an ageing playwright to repeat himself. - West
18 Nov 09
I'm a lifelong fan of Britten and have re-read Humphrey Carpenter's biography of him more than once. I'm reasonably well up on Auden too. I can't say I learnt anything new about either of them here - and that was the problem. The publicity claims that "this new play is as much about the theatre as it is about poetry or music. It looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography. It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion's spent: ultimately, on the habit of art". As far as I'm concerned, though, it didn't amount to much more than a shedload of dick jokes and a couple of potted histories. A rambling second act with an interminable, mawkish ending. Disappointing stuff. - Job
18 Nov 09
Solid performances by the cast and some quite funny lines. However i didn't think it really worked and certainly didn't utilise the skills of a cracking cast.
Mind you i saw it early in its run so i'd expect it to be slicker as time goes on. - Nick Marshall
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