EFR - Reviews of Alan and Bennett

Alan and Bennett

Sat 6th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Richard Birch

at 22:24 on 11th Aug 2016

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‘Do you ever contemplate anything other than your own meaningless and pointless existence?’ asks Alan to Bennett in a surreal homage by Toby King to this modern-day literary giant. Taking elements of Bennett’s style and pushing them to their logical extreme, this play ultimately succeeds in knowledgably honouring the artist while also offering something entirely new to his legacy.

The famous Bennett effete Leeds accent is captured masterfully by both Elizabeth Cook and Isaac Bernier-Doyle. In addition to this, much more admirably, the division of Bennett’s character between the misanthropic writer and the human, funny ‘experiencer’ of events is likewise successfully achieved. This bitter internal dialogue between the two versions of Bennett’s character is masterful, starting comic and eventually descending into morbid ruminations on the existential futility of human life.

The human Bennett has written a poem – a ditty, he calls it. Then ripped apart by the bitter misanthrope Bennett, this dichotomy between the two is immediately set up. Talking about how Leeds was, their memory, writing and so on; the atmosphere is warm, jovial, funny and full of savage ripostes which keep the audience consistently laughing. However, this atmosphere is periodically marred by reference to the darkness in the corner – where the teabag is flung and they dare not go to recover it. Though initially this is likewise comic, the darkness to this scene becomes readily apparent, with the self-aware references to symbolism drawing attention to the ticking and ‘encroaching darkness’ around the house.

The characters both start to wear of each other, noting ‘sometimes I get tired of myself’. The inevitable rise in tension is artfully controlled, culminating in the misanthropic Bennett totally losing his patience and revealing the entire psychological backdrop of the play – a fear of mortality, ageing and insignificance. ‘What have we done to improve the world?’ he asks angrily, before then building to the introductory quotation to this review.

It is this morbid obsession which is proven to be the ultimate crux of the play, and combined with the undeniable comedy of the earlier half; this play is a total triumph, a beautiful homage to the writer’s style and art and a powerful pushing of that style to its theatrical extreme.

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Jessica Cripps

at 00:23 on 12th Aug 2016

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Asking questions about death is part of being human, and Cup of Brew Productions have found fresh and stimulating ways to do so this year. Their second Fringe 2016 show gently considers the fear of mortality through the inner monologue of playwright Alan Bennett.

Writer and director Toby King’s duologue pushes the writer vs. man personality split that previously featured in the film 'The Lady in the Van', but previous knowledge of this is not necessary to enjoy the fast and snarky quips between Elizabeth Cook’s ‘intellectual’ Alan, and Isaac Bernier-Doyle’s ‘social’ Alan.

Mimicking the different voices we might hear in our own internal monologue, the pair bicker like siblings, completely reliant on their relationship and yet desperate to be independent of each other. Their individual physicalities are mirrored rather than identical, believably conveying two opposing halves of the same psyche without becoming convoluted in twinned movements. The grumpiness of the intellectual Alan, who craves time to be alone, is also expertly conveyed in his hunched shoulders and sour face, while the social Alan craves friendship from his counterpart and is contrastingly endearing in his desire for social comfort. The set is never explained, but the dialogue and each Alan’s reluctance to step into the shadows helps to confirm the setting as an imagined internal space within a mind.

Writer and director Toby King does a fantastic job at keeping his script gently philosophical without relying on clichés. The literary structure puns were subtle and intelligent, swirling smart comedy against the darker undertones of the piece. His simplistic staging also compliments the subtleties of the script nicely, and second viewings of the performance would definitely reveal the considered intricacies of the overall experience that cannot be appreciated the first time around.

The only weakness of the entire thing is the reluctance to emphasise the ticking of the clock – something on which the narrative hinges - either through dialogue or audio. Is there a ticking clock gently whiling away the performance time? I was not quite sure. Sometimes I felt like I could hear an almost inaudible clock tick, something I quite like the idea of, but then again perhaps that was my own mind playing tricks on me. As the social Alan summarises, “It’s probably symbolism.” Despite intellectual Alan’s legitimate derisive retort, it works rather well: subtle but clear. Just the way effective symbolism should be.

It is not until the last line that the real theme is unveiled: not one of mortality at all, and not loneliness either, but the heartbreaking reality of simply being alone in your own mind. Kudos to the cast and crew: you pack a punch.

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