Sunday 24 January 2010

The Habit of Art

Off to the National Theatre last night to see Alan Bennett's new play, The Habit of Art with Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings. The fact that it is a play within a play meant that Bennett managed to mix in some profoundly funny lines, involving Rent Boys and all sorts of things, but also consider the profundities of creating a work of art. This latter was also a duality because at the centre of act 2 is a discussion between Auden (Richard Griffiths) and Britten (Alex Jennings) about the creating of Death in Venice which Britten is nervous about and Auden feels that Myfanwy Piper's libretto misses the point. Auden(Griffiths) also made an interesting point, that no-one hears the libretto and that its function is not to be heard but to inspire and usher in the music, the libretto should challenge the composer.

The Auden character raises an interesting point, that for Britten the Dionysius figure should be a schoolboy figure in blazer and whites; perhaps someone should do a production with a young looking baritone so that the dialogue between Apollo and Dionysius could be between two school-boys, both candidates for Britten's desire.

But overlaying this discussion is the fact that we are witnessing a rehearsal of the play, complete with Stage Manager (Frances de la Tour) so we have two levels of discussion about the strains of creating a work of art.

I much enjoyed the play and found it very thought provoking. Perhaps more than usual as it rather fed into my anxieties about my own new opera which is going to go into rehearsal later this year. So a very apt time to see a play about the problems of creating an opera.

In the first half Britten/Jennings does not really have a function in the plot, so the actor playing Britten has various pieces of business and occasionally accompanies a choir boy singing bits of Britten (The Ash Grove, parts of Turn of the Screw); the idea being the Britten is auditioning a choir boy for his next work. The young man singing (one of three listed in the programme) performed nicely.
Certainly a recommended event, though I would have been interested in the dynamic if the actor playing Auden (originally scheduled to be Michael Gambon), had actually looked like Auden

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