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Review Round-up: What did critics make of Bennett's Untold Stories?

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The West End transfer of the NT's production of Untold Stories opened at the Duchess Theatre last week (2 April 2013).

Comprising of two autobiographical recollections by Alan Bennett, the show stars Alex Jennings as Bennett, and runs at the Duchess Theatre until 15 June.

Theo Bosanquet

...Jennings affectionately inhabits his subject without ever slipping into Spitting Image territory... He skilfully plays with the quartet like a fifth instrument, at times involving the musicians directly to demonstrate his stuttering early attempts as a would-be violinist. The second piece, Cocktail Sticks, is such an ideal companion of the first that it's difficult to imagine they were ever not a pair... Jeff Rawle and Gabrielle Lloyd give accomplished performances as Mr and Mrs B... once again it's Jennings who shines brightest with his pitch-perfect portrayal of the blazer-wearing, squarely-bespeckled scribe. This is an evening to savour, for Bennett fans old and new...

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

...It’s almost as if the splendid Alex Jennings is more Alan Bennett than Bennett himself… Bennett’s childhood affinity with music… left frustratingly underexplored and Jennings’s narration is too often overwhelmed by the onstage string quartet. What this piece does evoke powerfully, however, and in ways reminiscent of Ken Loach’s stirring film The Spirit of ’45, is a bygone era of municipal cultural pride… It’s a richly poignant portrait of an inward-looking yet loving couple… Nicholas Hytner’s assured production could usefully include a couple of the real-life Bennett’s disarming flashing smiles to vary the mood of light melancholy. Still, the predominant note is regret…yet things turn out alright in the end.

Kate Bassett
The Independent

Jennings's impersonation is a delight – almost unnervingly spot-on… My only cavil is how Jennings, under Nadia Fall's direction, looks over-demonstratively mournful and nostalgic as the quartet launch into George Fenton's plangent score. Part of Bennett's brilliance as a writer is that he never lays it on thick, emotionally. He is too deft and wry for that. Yet Untold Stories (as the title implies) has seen him opening up slightly more, late in life… Jeff Rawle is quietly superb as Bennett's uxorious but antisocial father. And Gabrielle Lloyd is poignant as the playwright's nattering mam… By the way, if you're still wondering, the only point where Jennings breaks into song is in a knowingly absurd bout of jazz scatting.

Quentin Letts
The Daily Mail

…You leave this show knowing a little more about the ‘Alan Bennett’ Alan Bennett wants you to know. That may be far from the truth, but it will probably satisfy Mr Bennett’s enviably large brigade of fans… On one level the play is a beautiful, affectionate memoir. Mr Bennett claims to feel shame, now, that as an Oxford undergraduate he was ashamed of his low-class parents… In places, the artistic topspin is clumsy… These recollections are entitled Untold Stories, but the real untold story may be less cardiganed and sweet. While ostensibly celebrating his parents, is Mr Bennett not laughing at them a little? His audience does. Writers can be brutes.

Dominic Cavendish
The Telegraph

…Here’s an evening of invigorating, unadulterated Bennettian wit and wisdom... Playing the author with sublime assurance once more is Alex Jennings… but through a strange alchemy, this ceases to be an affectionate tribute act and it’s as if you’re in the presence of the man himself… Thanks to sensitive lighting, too, in Nadia Fall’s production… it’s as if your lungs are filled with the musty air of old churches where, fighting easy nostalgia and sentiment… if there’s anything to learn it’s that profundity is to be found in the parochial: he speaks a universal language, does Alan B.

Dominic Maxwell
The Times


Short of Alan Bennett coming round to break open the bourbons at your kitchen table, this is about as “Bennetty” an evening as you’ll ever get… That Northern pithiness, that Bennetty bathos, would be a parody of itself but for one thing. It’s so darned good…Nicholas Hytner’s fluid production helps Bennett to pull off a brilliant balancing act... An evocative look at music, churches and belonging, it’s a great warm-up for the second half… And Jennings is brilliant in both. He assumes Bennett’s trademark tones with the same ease as he slips on his uniform of grey jacket, shirt, tie and V-neck. He’s reedy, contained, yet commanding. In fact, Jennings could surely spend the rest of his days doing this act in every theatre, church hall and Scout hut in the land.


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