I am a relatively new fan of Alan Bennett and consequently have seen quite a number of his plays in a short space of time. I am always struck by the subtlety of the point he makes and this play is no different. The irony is that in People unravelling the point takes work because it is over-layed by, often farcical, comedy. People is a good romp in many respects, but with an undertone of seriousness if you can make the effort to find it. I found the way he portrayed the very different types of Englishness in his characters quite moving, and in a way touchingly tender towards a time and group of people that are ever dwindling. The stoic gung-ho Englishness of the past meets the cynical realism of the future. I enjoyed the subtle levels of the different characters, clinging or living in different degrees in the past, to the forward moving and forward looking characters, with Dotty in the middle as a pivot. A great deal of Bennet appears to be about the struggle to belong and this play is no different. Though this play, being set within an ever shrinking minority, perhaps makes the experience of empathy not as easily accessible to the audience. It also felt a bit like Bennett was playing, through the slightly awkward humour, not only with the Englishness of the people in the play, but also with the Englishness of the audience. The play rocks from poignant to outrageous and the reaction of the audience was almost as interesting as the characters in the play. It made me think about where i sit in the world, and my attitude to time and change.
In truth, perhaps People is never going to be considered his most profound play, and i can understand why some people might feel disappointed. But all in all i recommend it as a good fun night out. - Al
09 May 13
Certainly not Alan Bennett at has best.Why wast money seeing this 'mediocre' production when there is so many jewels to see in the West End.Oh for another Bennett play like 'The History Boys'. - Rob
31 Mar 13
Although at times extremely funny, People is not Alan Bennett at his very best. I think it's partly because he doesn't seem completely clear about the type of play he is writing. The portrayal of the aptly named Dotty and her equally eccentric companion is delightful, but their attempts to preserve their decaying old stately home feels a bit forced. The play has become notorious for its attack on the National Trust and their theme park version of our cultural heritage but it is unbalanced and even condescending as you feel Bennett partly sympathises with the view that high culture is not for "people". Linda Bassett and Frances de la Tour are superb but I found Dotty to be implausible; a former high fashion model who has become so detached from the modern world, living through old events, but remarkably quick to catch up. There are hints of a mental breakdown following a miscarriage but Bennett is not the sort of writer to explore those depths. Bob Crowley's set is magnificent and an astonishing transformation brought deserved applause. The bulk of the audience at the Lyttelton that form Bennett's constituency are also those who might feel under attack from this amusing but slightly misfiring comedy. - David Baxter
29 Mar 13
Superb theatre - pace, laughs (quality) from beginning to end; Ben. @ his best - how could few not see deeper?? - Steve
21 Mar 13
Well! What a mixed reception this has been getting! Garnering a fair few fives and fours, it’s also scored some resounding twos and ones, all of which making this the most controversial play (controversial – Bennett?) I’ve ever seen. It was thus that I had no idea what to expect when I took my seat in that ugliest of proscenium arch theatres, the Lyttelton.
Well, the first thing I should mention before saying anything else – for this becomes apparent the moment the curtain goes up, pretty much before we see any of the characters – is that the set is phenomenal. The sheer size of that Lyttelton stage means design wizard Bob Crowley has carbon-copied a vast Georgian manor room, all gilt portraits, dust sheets and disrepair, and placed it, down to the shiny floorboards, straight onstage. It’s cavernous but immediately believable – and, later, in the show’s most spectacular scene, is transformed into a huge National Trust travesty, all faux-antique chairs, red rope and audio guides. The whole thing’s worth it for the first five seconds alone.
The play being acted in the set is unfortunately (uncontroversially) fuller of holes than the dust sheets. The plot is unrealistic and some of the attempts at pathos are slacker than the reproductive organ of the porn star in Act II (oh, yeah, there’s a porn film involved). Despite all of this however, the acting (especially the character acting) is superb, the one-liners are vintage Bennett and some characters, if only by dint of their oddity, assume a tragedy all their own. Most notable in the latter respect is Linda Bassett, who truly delivers the goods in terms of accents and prodigious physical theatre as the ‘companion’, Iris, to Frances de la Tour’s Lady Dorothy – her high kicks during their heart-warmingly inept rendition of Downtown are worth the price of admission alone. Equally notable is Nicholas le Prevost’s show-stealing upper class man from the National Trust, all empty bonhomie and nervous laughs as he innocently charges about the stage in search of new assets to the Trust. De la Tour has not been afforded her most engaging part in Lady Stacpoole but with her long white hair, vinegary voice and ability to look good in wellies, she makes up easily for the shortcomings of her character, and there is actually an interesting back story to read between her lines (I think, anyway).
Act I works best dramatically but even though a laughable amount is packed into Act II I think that my favourite bits came after the interval. There were numerous other good points, including excellent support in minor roles, and the lighting was just as good as the set. Really, although it is Alan Bennett’s play – and be warned; it isn’t his best, and you won't come away feeling any more antipathy for the National Trust than you may have had when you went in – this is a team effort which has paid off into a great night of theatre.
03 Mar 13
Genius - JRshotMe
01 Mar 13
I am a HUGE Bennett fan, loved The Habit of Art but I am afraid this falls quite flat. The two acts are uneven in their pace and the characters seem stereotypes and not people you want to know. The acting is great but the ideas of the play are muddled and inconsistent' the sub plots bizarre. That's all fine I guess fine as long as it's funny enough or engaging enough which sadly it isnt. I will always go and see the latest Alan B play but this is not one of his greats, v surprised by positive press reviews. - Jww
30 Dec 12
It’s not Bennett’s greatest writing but sufficiently amusing to provide an evening of good entertainment. The casting was good and the set was brilliant when revealed in all it’s glory having been finally cleaned and polished by an army of NT volunteer curators. The filming of the porn video “Reach for the Thigh” was pure farce, complete with the arrival of a Bishop and we can empathies with Dorothy Stacpoole who becomes a living exhibit in the growing heritage industry. It’s not surprising that Bennett would target the Thatcherite 80’s when everything had a price rather than a value, but I guess most of his core audience probably hold the NT in high regard. The intention must be to make them question their motives for volunteering and the consequences of membership without responsibility of a self selected organisation which benefit’s a largely Blairite urban minority, whilst robbing the majority via gift aid.
20 Nov 12
A splendid evening's entertainment with, as usual, excellent direction, design and performances. What joy to see three well-written roles for women "of age". The acting is first class including all the minor roles. Moments of Lettice and Lovage and moments right out of Habeus Corpus. The play could do with a better final scene; a bit sudden and underwritten. It is not one of Bennett's best works but still manages to be thought-provoking and a smashing night out. - Carrie
08 Nov 12
I share the amazement at the good reviews. I left the theatre feeling very protective towards the National Trust, having not cared less about it when I went in. The plot strand involving a porn movie being filmed in the country house provoked gales of embarrassed silence in the theatre when I saw the play. And I speak as a big fan of Alan Bennett, the National Theatre, and Nick Hytner. I just don't want people to waste their money.
08 Nov 12
I'm amazed that this is getting good reviews. I felt the script was very poor - nothing original to say, style all over the place, more cringe-worthy than funny - and the direction and performances trying far too hard to camouflage that. The strongest performance was Linda Bassett's, but her big 'revelation' about the family past falls flat. None of the secrets uncovered create any dramatic tension, in fact, because these don't feel like real characters with a real backstory that you care anything about. If it hadn't been written by Alan Bennett, I can't imagine that the NT would have touched this - I hope not anyway. - Nadine
08 Nov 12
There is always a frisson of excitement surrounding a new Alan Bennett play at the National and rightly so, for Bennett has delivered some of the NT’s real highlights over the years.
However his new play, People, is not I fear one of his best. I saw a preview performance at the weekend and whilst there may be some changes prior to opening night, the structure of the play must surely now be in place.
I won't give anything of the plot away, but what is clear is that Alan Bennett has a bee in his bonnet which he lays before us in this play. The problem for me was too many strands which didn't come together, leaving the evening feeling bitty and at times laboured, despite the best efforts of the actors.
Of those on stage, Linda Bassett's character is definitely the most engaging.
Alas this Alan Bennett play will, not live long in the memory for me. Sadly I left the theatre feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.
- Paul Wallis
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