A new Alan Bennett play is always greatly anticipated and a somewhat familiar affair: at the National, directed by Nicholas Hytner and staring Frances De La Tour, at least for the last three plays anyway. So, with Bennett’s trademark witticisms, this play does not disappoint. It was consistently funny, although at great expense to the National Trust. However, the plot dealt with the demise of a country house and how the owners decided to dispose of it was a little one dimensional,. It was like a dog with a bone and Bennett ran with National Trust bashing, mocking its policies and how middle-classed it is. It does serve as a metaphor (Bennett knowingly had a line in the play which denounced the use of metaphor) to the society as a whole as to how art and other commodities are now democratised but ended being ruined by its availability. These are perfectly good points to make but it doesn’t go deep enough into the debate. There is a distinct lack of drama and the play came across as a bit like a sitcom. (potential spoiler alert but there is nothing substantial here, skip to the next paragraph if desired ) There was a moment that could have descended into a farce involving a four poster bed and a bishop but was resolved rather disappointingly. And what could have construed as a twist in the tale towards the end again came to nothing and everyone got on with their lives.
The production was as polished as you can imagine a project involving Bennett and Hytner can be. The set was a sumptuous country house drawing room with a tweak of perspective that gave it real depth. The three central female characters were fantastic, particularly Frances De La Tour who captured the mix of eccentricity, stubbornness and oddly open mindedness with great energy. One cannot fault from a direction point of view. I am sure this will be loved and treasured for a long time and it serves as a perfectly decent play. It doesn’t achieve the high standards we are used to.