The Habit of Art examines the stormy relationship between composer Benjamin Britten and poet WH Auden, imagining a reunion between the former friends 25 years after they last saw each other. Also containing scenes set in the rehearsal room of a play called Caliban's Day (the original title until Hytner suggested the current one), it was described by the director recently as being “about the business of putting a play together as much as it is about making music or poetry”.
"A smash hit if I ever saw one" writes Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph, leading a chorus of colleagues in praising Bennett's first play since the hugely acclaimed History Boys. But despite a clutch of five star ratings, not all overnight reviewers were in agreement, with some accusing The Habit of Art of being overly "self-referential" with its theatrical focus and "rather contrived". But director Nicholas Hytner was singled out by most for his "superbly fluid" production of a Bennett's intricate play-within-a-play, even if some still found the structure overly complex, containing "enough layers to make Pirandello blanch" in the words of Michael Billington. Meanwhile, Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings were generally considered excellent as the "dried up" Auden and "prissy" Britten.