Tag Archives: Alan Bennett

Allelujah! – 4 Stars



The Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 30th July 2018


“Bennett’s wonderfully crafted throwaway lines pepper the text”


Almost fifty years on from Peter Nichols’ “The National Health” – a black comedy with tragic overtones that focuses on the appalling conditions in an under-funded national health hospital – Alan Bennett’s “Allelujah!” is its natural heir. Set in the geriatric ward of a doomed Yorkshire hospital, Bennett’s play echoes the themes but with a sharp, contemporary bite and with more humour that cushions the inherent and inevitable diatribes that come with the subject matter. Thankfully, for the most part, the politics are pushed backstage: the play’s the thing – and this is pure entertainment from start to finish. There is a definite television sitcom feel to the production; a less whimsical ‘Green Wing’ with shades of the surrealism of Dennis Potter’s ‘The Singing Detective’. It is a potent combination.

The ‘Beth’ (short for Bethlehem), an old-fashioned cradle-to-grave hospital on the edge of the Pennines, is threatened with closure as part of the NHS efficiency drive. Meanwhile a documentary crew is brought onto the wards to capture its fight for survival. But, resorting to some underhand methods, they also uncover some of the darker methods used to combat the constant struggle to free up beds for newcomers. Under Nicholas Hytner’s acute direction the comedy and the poignancy are never at odds with each other. Hytner is well attuned to Bennett’s ability to switch from humour to pathos in a whisper. The biggest laughs hail from some of the cruellest dialogue. Bennett’s wonderfully crafted throwaway lines pepper the text, in which one of the elderly patients, reacting to the news that another has passed away, describes it as “very rude – didn’t he realise there was a queue”.

There is no such discourtesy as the twenty-five strong cast queue up to deliver their fine performances. Here democracy rules, although there are some stand outs. Deborah Findlay gives a wonderful turn as the ward sister who singlehandedly and criminally ensures that the hospital’s turnover of patients meets its targets. Jeff Rawle as the bigoted, lung-shredded ex-miner exhales a corrosive mix of insult and affection, especially towards his ministerial son (Samuel Barnett) who, by slightly implausible coincidence, has been sent up from Whitehall as the key facilitator in closing down the hospital. Peter Forbes lends a balanced self-important, self-mocking charm to his chairman of the hospital trust, and Sacha Dhawan’s character of the young Dr Valentine lays bare the more contemporary themes in our post-Windrush climate, and post-Saville era where “bedside manners borders on interference”.

Yet there is still a feeling of nostalgia enhanced by the scenes being punctuated with dreamlike sequences of song and dance, brilliantly choreographed by Arlene Phillips, as the patients form a choir of angelic voices to reclaim a long-forgotten past amid the classic songs of their youth. You almost sense that they are being furtively drip fed some sort of hallucinogen alongside the normal daily medication.

Only in the final scenes when, like the hospital itself, the fourth wall is pulled down do we get a hint that the show, in part, is a vehicle for Bennett’s bugbears. Not just about the NHS, but modern British society in general. Bennett makes no attempt to hide his own voice as Dhawan’s Dr Valentine, facing deportation, addresses the audience directly and proclaims, “Open your arms, England, before it’s too late”. This is the only slightly preachy moment in an otherwise slick, powerful and magical commentary on society. But at least it was saved for the end. The rest is a pure delight: a real tonic.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



The Bridge Theatre until 29th September


Previously reviewed at this venue
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018
Nightfall | ★★★ | May 2018


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Kafka’s Dick – 4 Stars


Kafka’s Dick

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 26th June 2018


“Jacob Trenerry’s Kafka is particularly convincing “


In Prague in 1919, Franz Kafka tells his friend Max Brod that he is dying. He’s said this before, as Max points out, but this time he means it and he has a dying wish. Kafka asks Max to burn his life’s works and Max promises to do so. Meanwhile, in 1980s suburbia, Sydney is writing an article on his beloved Kafka, though he is more interested in Kafka’s life than Kafka’s works. Sydney and Kafka have a lot in common after all, careers in insurance and a dislike of their own names, for example. He is justifiably shocked therefore, when Max Brod, Franz Kafka and later Hermann Kafka turn up at his front door, but not as shocked as Kafka when he realises the extent of his fame, the volumes of his own work (none of which were burnt) and the volumes of work about him, both about his literary achievements and about the size of his penis.

Alan Bennett’s text is witty, intelligent and investigative. He asks questions about literary fame, and the way that authors are remembered in a fun and accessible way that escalates as it progresses.

Philip Ley’s set design is lovely, a backdrop of slanting white book shelves filled with red and black volumes, sandwiched by the front and back of a white car. The effect is simultaneously striking yet minimal.

The cast are predominantly strong and work well together. Peter Novis potters in and out as ‘Father’, a bumbling comic figure veiling a sad, confused elderly man, desperately committing to memory the facts of Kafka’s life in a vein attempt to avoid being taken away. Witty and poignant at once, this is a grounding line of humanity even as the play escalates. Jacob Trenerry’s Kafka is particularly convincing and treads well the border between Bennett’s colliding worlds of realism and absurdity.

There are some clumsy moments, but I’m sure these will be ironed out as the run continues. There are also some issues with pace that occasionally leave moments of humour falling flat. The pace is essential, because the play is so reliant on this being consistently built up so that the lift-off into the complete absurdity of the finish can be achieved successfully. A more slick performance with a greater emphasis on creating this momentum would really help the piece achieve its full potential.

Fun, irreverent and increasingly absurd, Bennett is a fantastic writer and this production delivers his work with commitment and wit.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Robert Piwko


Kafka’s Dick

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 30th June


Previously reviewed at this venue
A Night at the Oscars | ★★★★ | February 2018
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018


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