Theatre Review: People

By - Saturday 8th December, 2012

National Theatre, South Bank, until 9 February
Time from East Croydon  25 minutes

National Trust members will have their loyalties questioned and their feathers rustled by this moving and, at times, blisteringly funny new work by Alan Bennett. Frances de la Tour shines as Lady Stackpool, former model and penniless aristocrat whose stately home is quite literally falling apart around her. The options to save it include gifting it to the National Trust, selling off its contents and, in a decision that leads to the play’s most memorable scenes, licensing it as a location for pornographic filmmaking.

A superb double act: Frances de la Tour and Linda Bassett sing ‘Down Town’ (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)

Miles Jupp is commanding and breaks type with a confident performance as an unscrupulous auctioneer, while Peter Egan, playing a larger than life porn director, has a chemistry with de la Tour that’s touching and leaves the audience wondering what might have been. Some scenes are less memorable. In particular, the second half of the first act drags in what feels like a necessary but unexciting establishment of the parameters in which the National Trust will be further criticised. The beginning of act two sees an immediate change to a more engaging pace that would have benefited the first act somewhat. Occasional pieces of a cappella singing by de la Tour and Linda Bassett are haunting as the staging in the Lyttelton Theatre effectively gives off the acoustics of a high-ceilinged ancient home. Bassett herself is both an excellent character and a perfect half of the double act she ends up in with de la Tour, and between them the pair offer a treat to anyone who enjoys the simple pleasure of watching the titting about of people who should know better.

The play does not pull its punches – it’s abundantly clear that Lady Stackpool’s views of the National Trust are Bennett’s own – and while a lengthy, complex scene change just before the play’s conclusion feels inevitable and automatic, the assumptions of the audience regarding the stately homes of England are left more than a little rocked. ‘Why do we call them “ours”?’ Bennett seems to ask. It’s a valid point. What claim do we have to come tramping through drawing rooms, mouths open and not a jot of interest beyond that which the voice in our headphones is telling us? It is a question that one finds difficult to answer after the play, which reaches an obvious but not entirely satisfying conclusion after a broadly well-paced narrative throughout. I would heartily recommend it to my fellow Croydonians, as while the plot isn’t going to change the world (not that every plot should try to), the laughs are in abundance and this is a clever, nuanced set of characters played to a high standard across the cast.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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