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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The best actors play the tunes we never get tired of hearing

To the National to see Alan Bennett's "The Habit Of Art". We had fifth row seats, close enough to see the spray of the actors spit. They were £10, in case you're wondering. The play's based on a theoretical meeting between W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten in later life at Oxford where they have an extensive kickaround on the theme of biography, the distinction between the artist and the art, pederasty, the old ladies of Aldeburgh, old age and the fact that many men come to resemble their scrotums. It's presented as an afternoon's rehearsal of the play with the actors coming in and out of character and also discussing their trade. Daughter two nudges me when the first player turns out to be Adrian Scarborough, the put-upon husband of "Gavin and Stacey". What she doesn't know is that he's alongside Uncle Monty from "Withnail And I", the vicar from "Cranford" and that the woman playing the stage manager was once Miss Jones to Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby. The stage, in fact, is seething with characters and types that we have lived with for quite a long time. Billy Wilder said that most actors had a couple of things they could show you but then their shelves were cleared. Blessed are those who have a narrow range of notes (we're not going to see Richard Griffiths playing a holy man, for instance) but can nonetheless stir us again and again.