An Evening of Alan Bennett

Date 15th July 2017
Society Holt Dramatic Society
Venue Holt Village Hall
Type of Production Play


Author: Dee Way


‘An Evening of Alan Bennett’

Two one act plays by Alan Bennett

Holt Dramatic Society

Performance date: 15 July 2017

Reviewed by Dee Way, District 14 Representative, South West Region, covering for Petra Schofield

(NODA SW District 10)

The two plays by Alan Bennett, ‘Say Something Happened’ and ‘A Lady of Letters’ are well paired as they both use a rather old-fashioned sitting room as the setting and reflect very ordinary lives.  However, as ever in Alan Bennett’s plays, the characters created are both astutely and sympathetically observed.  Hence the material for the plays is well ordered and devised, including strong characters, straight talking and wry humour.

This production used a box set decorated as a rather run down sitting room for both plays to very good effect.  I loved the attention to detail, such as the pictures in the wall, the bookcase, the front door up stage right, with a Yale lock, the coving on the ceiling and the placement of the window stage right.  Using a box set allowed the action of each piece to be very contained, giving the impression that what we saw comprised the main part of the lives of the characters.  It also gave clues to the overall tenor or the action with the sense of restriction.  The order of the plays was also a good choice, as the monologue was more powerful by coming second.

‘Say Something Happened’ was a beautifully worked presentation of an elderly married couple who are quite content and quite set in their ways.  A young, inexperienced social worked visits them to persuade them to be registered with the council as possibly needing support in the future – if something happened.  It was lovely that the play began and ended with the same lines, to indicate that the visit had actually changed nothing as far as Mam and Dad were concerned. 

The settled quality of the couple was very well played, with good body language and broken conversation.  The costumes were lovely and relaxed, with business-like Mam in a red and white dress with cardigan and pearl necklace and laidback Dad in slacks, short and cardigan.  The accents were very well done, and gave a real sense of authenticity to the play.  The young social worker, June Potter was beautifully portrayed as a ‘bright young thing’, and enhanced by her nearly constant head movement, flicking her hair over her eyes.  Her twitchiness was admirable while the timing of some of her lines was hilarious.  Her costume was good, with just enough office appearance without being formal.  At times the lines were a little quiet, but overall the performance was engaging and very effective. 

This was a very effective piece of theatre and thoroughly entertaining as much of the audience could obviously agree that the couple should be left to their own way of living.  Well done!

‘A Lady of Letters’ is a monologue that requires quite a bit of stage crew support, in changing furniture and costume onstage and a good character actress.  Both were exceptional here.  The rather sparse set looked exactly right for the home of the lonely and isolated Irene Ruddock who writes letters to put the world to rights.  This was a very well conceived production, with the small adjustments to the set and costume showing the passing of time - and finally the change of place and mood. 

The sound track of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was very well chosen to suggest that the theme here was our need for social interaction.  The sound of the ice cream van was a lovely touch.  The lighting was well used, too, to isolate different areas of the stage.  The only time when I felt there could have been more effective lighting was towards the end, when perhaps harsher tones and more spotlight effects would take her out of her sitting room more obviously.

The costume adjustments onstage, with the addition of a cardigan, an apron or hat and coat, were very well organised and gave great character to the part.  However, it was the acting that was superb here.  The tone of voice, inflections, pauses and timing created a totally believable character, while the use of the window to spark her observations worked very well.  The progression of the topic of the scenes, from her isolation in her home, the new neighbours with the sick child, the vicar calling, the threat of prison and finally to the freedom she feels in prison was beautifully done. It was a delight to see this lonely and isolated character finally become happy!

Altogether, this was an excellent evening of theatre, with the audience leaving amused by Irene and in total sympathy with her character.  Well done to everyone involved!