In his grand old age, Alan Bennett has cornered the market in turning passionate outrage into high octane entertainment. In People, the target of his indignation is the commercialisation of our heritage, with the National Trust first in the firing line.
Bennett has described it as a play about an England in which ‘everything has a price and if it doesn’t it has no value’. He is sceptical of the trust’s intentions, believing they promote a ‘pretend England… so decent, so worthy, so dull’.
The action is set in the dilapidated stately home of a penniless aristocrat, Lady Dorothy Stacpoole, once a successful woman in her own right, now a mere symbol, in moth-eaten fur coat, of what the house has become. Lauren Farnhill perfectly catches the balance between withering wit, buoyant optimism and desolate despair that nails Bennett’s purpose in writing the play.
Caz Gilmore’s production skilfully fuses the potentially disparate elements of the play. The second half careers from full-on farce through pin-sharp satire to touching melancholy. A large cast create a dynamic sense of ensemble when it is needed.
There are strong supporting performances, especially from Sean Fisher as the oily agent of a sinister consortium interested in buying the house, Peter Colley as a world-weary film director and Sam Sampson as the crass National Trust official.