Alan Bennett’s new play, People, confirms his status as a national treasure. In a piquant confession of humanity’s secret opinions of the rest of humanity he delivers an intensely enjoyable (though not breath-taking) show.
The remaining descendants of the once grand Stacpoole family have to decide which organisation to give their stately – albeit dilapidated – home to following its natural decline. The show climbs steadily to a not entirely unexpected climax and the story is a comment on the toll time takes on individuals and objects alike, a theme which underpins the strained relationship between our lead, open-minded former model Dorothy, and her overbearing archdeacon sibling June, played by Selina Caldwell. The exchange of their opposing opinions on who the home should go to provides the base storyline, upon which a number of amusing supporting characters build the touching story under Nicholas Hytner’s direction.
Dorothy, played by a thoroughly glamorous and slightly eccentric fur-toting Frances de la Tour is utterly fabulous to watch. Stuck in a long-gone era never to return she is almost a politically incorrect fable for those who don’t get married and have children, as brave as her acceptance of that fact is. Linda Bassett, as her “companion” evokes much fondness from the audience with her matter-of-fact observations that lead to hilarious consequences.
With its complex tax implications, the inheritance of the house is very much looked upon as a burden rather than a gift. Bennett’s admission of “PST” (People Spoil Things) through Dorothy’s reluctance to allow the great unwashed to traipse through her much loved childhood home and paw through her family’s sometimes priceless and sometimes downright absurd belongings is very poignant. Succinct musings such as this add to the hint of intrigue which cleverly and subtly gains momentum over the course of the play, drawing its audience in and keeping them there.
People is playing at the National Theatre until April 2nd 2013. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website. Image by Catherine Ashmore.