Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, Lyttelton, National Theatre, London
Monday 17 December 2012
“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
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'We're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
V&A removes depiction of Prophet Mohamed from website amid 'severe security alert'
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd