Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, Lyttelton, National Theatre, London

4.00

 

“I have never found it easy to belong. So much repels,” declares Alan Bennett (uncannily well- played by Alex Jennings) towards the close of the first in this delectable double-bill of short autobiographical pieces. “Hymns help. They blur.”

That sense of not fitting in connects the 2001 work Hymn – a memoir of the music in the author's childhood – with Cocktail Sticks which revisits in semi-dramatised form themes found in A Life Like Other People's, Bennett's prose account of the marriage of his chronically shy and retiring parents (a Leeds butcher and his wife) and of his mother's battles with depression.  This was “an illness to which she was not socially entitled” but which, with grim irony, she was granted, as distinct from those other features of the middle-class world - cocktail parties, avocado pears, coffee mornings – for which unavailingly yearned.

In Hymn (directed by Nadia Fall), a string quartet, drawn from members of the Southbank Sinfonia, perform a lovely piece by George Fenton which nostalgically incorporates memories of Delius, Bridge, Elgar, a Palm Court orchestra, English hymn tunes and even a quote from “Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats”.  It provides the soundtrack to Bennett's reminiscences of youthful concert-going in Leeds Town Hall where the school seats were behind the double-basses (“rather like watching the circus from behind the elephants”) and the (rather Oedipal) failed violin lessons with his father who was a naturally talented amateur fiddler.

The hilarious comedy and the aching poignancy of Cocktail Sticks, premiered in Nicholas Hytner's pitch-perfect production, are enhanced through a device whereby neither death nor Alzheimer's prevent the dramatist from chatting to his parents – “Dad, you're dead, we can talk about it now”. 

Jeff Rawle beautifully captures the unassuming and benign nature of the latter, while Gabrielle Lloyd's Mam breaks your heart as she drifts from from vague aspiration and shame at how “Everybody else is the same” but their into severe depression and dementia. 

“Did you get your childhood back?” the old woman asks her son in a terribly moving moment when dramatic licence bestows lucidity on her.  But the author eventually comes to realise that a supposedly non-childhood, low on trauma and deprivation, is no necessary handicap to creativity since “you don't put yourself into what you write, you find yourself there”.

To 30 March 2013; 0207 452 3000

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week