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The Habit of Art

“Matthew kelly is superb”

The first revival of Alan Bennett’s 2009 metatheatrical comedy does such a good job of convincing you it’s a rehearsal, it’s a surprise when the actors emerge to take their bows.

Designer Adrian Linford places them in a shabby hall: strip lights, fire escape and high, grubby walls. Through the understated direction of Philip Franks, Matthew Kelly and David Yelland differentiate subtly between playing two ageing actors and two ageing actors acting. Fitz (Kelly) and Henry (Yelland) slip the roles of WH Auden and Benjamin Britten on and off like pairs of well-worn slippers. There is, within this sense of the habitual, a kind of finesse.

Kelly is superb as the poet Auden, a coarsely quacking curmudgeon in a bobbled brown cardie with “a face like his balls”, yet dynamic in his openness to sex, art and argument.

Yelland plays the composer Britten with a furtive grace. He also delights as the dependable thesp Henry, who politely offers notes about the inner lives of rent boys. John Wark and Benjamin Chandler play two other actors, struggling to gain artistic ground for their characters, a biographer and a young sex-worker.

The Habit of Art is sharpest when the two old friends – rivals and fellow “buggers” – clash, playing a sort of Rock-Paper-Scissors with words and music. The meeting Bennett imagines for them allows for weighty musings on creativity, biography, fame and sexuality. But someone has written a rather stodgy play leavened with dick jokes – and for all Bennett’s self-signalling devices, the author of his play-within-a-play may not be solely responsible.

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Production Details
Production nameThe Habit of Art
VenueTheatre Royal Brighton
StartsSeptember 11-15, 2018
EndsSeptember 15, 2018
Running time2hrs 15mins
AuthorAlan Bennett
DirectorPhilip Franks
ChoreographerCharlie Kenber, Shona Morris
Set designerAdrian Linford
Costume designerAdrian Linford
Lighting designerJohanna Town
Sound designerMax Pappenheim
Casting directorJoyce Nettles
CastMatthew Kelly, Alexandra Guelff, Benjamin Chandler, David Yelland, John Wark, Robert Mountford, Veronica Roberts
TechnicalClaire Auvache, Kira Treveil
Production managerTammy Rose
Company stage managerTim Speechley
Stage managerDavey Williams, Judith Barrow
Head of wardrobeSiobhan Boyd
ProducerGhost Light Theatre, Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal
VerdictMatthew Kelly is a superb WH Auden in this revival of Alan Bennett's stodgy comedy
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