The Habit of Art, main stage Belgrade Theatre, until Nov 10.
The play opens with actors arriving to rehearse Caliban’s Day which centres on a fictional meeting between the poet WH Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten.
The stage manager (Veronica Roberts) has to use all her skill to persuade the cast to run through the script without continuously questioning its contents.
As the rehearsal continues we learn more and more about the characters. Now an aged man, WH Auden (Matthew Kelly) regrets that he is no longer appreciated. He is bored and when his old colleague Benjamin Britten (David Yelland) arrives he tries to persuade him that they should work together.
Other elements of the play including the discussion between these two main characters concerning their sexuality and Britten’s love of young boys raises some challenging issues. The rent boy Tim (Benjamin Chandler) who arrives to do what he refers to as ‘just a job’ is confused by Auden’s preoccupation with time but appears initially to be unconcerned with the way he has to earn his money. It is the dismissive snobbery with which Auden addresses him that made him react and shout that he too had ambitions.
This is a very engaging performance with a great deal of humour. 'Why does a play have to be such a performance?’ says Auden.
Alan Bennett’s script is a clever way of making us understand how complex the world of ‘art’ is and how important acknowledgement and fame are to those who try to live their lives through their ‘artistic’ talents.
On some levels the play is very complex and although this reflects the characters it may make some members of the audience feel that they will need to see the play more than once to fully appreciate it.
Matthew Kelly is excellent in the dominant role of Auden and grabs the audience from the word go. David Yelland plays the contrasting insular role of Britten with great skill.
The entire cast is outstanding. A very well executed performances set in a rehearsal room which is quirky and engaging. A play that will appeal to an erudite audience.