Magazine article The Spectator

Public Face

Magazine article The Spectator

Public Face

Article excerpt

My favourite Alan Bennett story dates from when his play The Lady in the Van was performed in London. The piece includes two Alan Bennetts, one to take part in the action, the other to narrate. One was played by Nick Farrell, a neighbour of ours, who had agreed to do it on condition that he would be free to attend the birth of his first child. For some reason there was no understudy, so when Nick's wife went to hospital a chap in black tie appeared on stage before the curtain rose. 'Owing to indisposition, ' he said - an odd choice of words in the circumstances - 'the part of Alan Bennett will be played tonight by Mr Alan Bennett.' And there was the playwright himself.

Of course the real Alan Bennett hadn't memorised the text, so he was the only performer who had to read from the book. But it was a very Alan Bennett moment: the one person who couldn't convincingly take the part was Alan Bennett. He could be Alan Bennett but he could not perform Alan Bennett; watching Alan Bennett as Alan Bennett, the audience could not entirely suspend their disbelief.

qThis was an underlying theme in the BBC2 programme Being Alan Bennett (Saturday). He came over as an exceptionally thoughtful and kindly person, which I think we already guessed. In his celebrated diaries the only shafts are reserved for people he doesn't know, politicians and tabloid journalists mainly. But, towards the end of the programme, he said runically, 'I feel shackled by the notion they have of me of being a nice person.' Does he really feel shackled? Was there part of him that wanted us to see the inner curmudgeon? Does he never yell at dry-cleaners who promised to have his suit ready, now he really needs it? Were there tense conversations with the director? 'I hope you got me on my bike, flipping a V-sign at the taxi driver who cut me up!'

'No, Alan, ' says the director wearily. 'It's not that kind of show. Now, our next shoot is with your local WI. They adore you, so be a darling and start twinkling . . . ' He seemed anxious to depict writing as just another chore to be done: start at 10.30, work to lunch, nap after lunch, write till 5, go shopping, do another hour, and so on. The habit of art, to coin a phrase, which also happens to be the title of his latest play, about Auden and Britten plodding on in old age. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.