Sunday Double Bill, Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, London. December 2012
I think that the general feeling was that Rebecca and I were slightly insane in planning a theatre trip to London less than 10 days before Christmas but we're afraid that the lure of two new Alan Bennett plays was too strong.
After some freezing cold and dreadful weather we were very lucky and spent the morning wandering along the South Bank's Christmas market in glorious (and for December)warm sunshine. An indulgent lunch followed before we settled in to the circle at the Lyttleton for the first of our two playlets.
This is a collection of memories and micro essays from Alan Bennett set to live music. The set is very sparse, just an armchair and side table plus 4 seats for the string quartet. The musician appear first and were very talented then Alex Jennings, looking and sounding very much like Alan Bennett, walks on and starts talking.
The snippets were humorous, moving and educational and the music sublime although just occasionally I lost some of the words due to the volume of the music.
This is a very short piece, just 30 minutes and then we left the theatre for the 45 minute interval - the idea is that you indulge in a nice Sunday tea but we were too full form lunch so browsed the bookshop and then looked at the Landscape Photographer of the Year Exhibition.
The second of the two plays is longer, and more traditional although there are still musicians on the stage. This time the play starts with Alan Bennett clearing his parent's house and coming across a packet of cocktail sticks in the kitchen cupboard. From here it becomes a narrative tale with Bennett's memories and thoughts about his life being told and at times re-enacted by his parents and various other people.
A cast of 5 (Alan, Mam, Dad and 2 people playing everyone else) tell over 40 years of family history in just over an hour and in that time the audience is taken on a really emotional roller coaster journey - such as only Alan Bennett can.
The stories weren't new to me as I have read Bennett's books of autobiography/memoir but this didn't matter at all - hearing them in Alan Bennett's voice and acted out made the stories live even in a way that Bennett's writing hadn't.
These are two very odd pieces of theatre that were both sublime. They were odd because unlike so much theatre I think that you really do need to be older to understand and appreciate them. If you have no experience of his themes you won't understand either the humour or the sadness.
The best bit? Bennett's take on the line "they f*** you up, your mum and dad"
This isn't my last theatre trip of 2012 but was the last with Rebecca and very soon I shall have to work out my top 10 shows of the year.
I'm loathe to do this yet for as I started to do this with my books of the year but then in the past 3 days have read 2 books that have been fantastic and who knows what I'll think of the last play!