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At 78, playwright and author Alan Bennett has become almost as much of an institution as the stately homes of England, the subject of his latest play.

Like his smash hit The History Boys, it bemoans the passing of old values, though without quite the same freshness and verve.

But his sense of mischief is still very much intact - the funniest scenes involve the shooting of a porn film, the director (Peter Egan) making full use of the four poster beds which the crumbling South Yorkshire pile of Lady Dorothy Stacpoole has to offer.

But there’s no money to maintain the place – hasn’t been for ages – and former 60s catwalk model Dorothy (Frances de la Tour) and her equally aged companion (Linda Bassett’s deliciously twinkly Iris) haven’t had hot water for a bath for decades.

Something has got to be done and her sister (Selina Cadell’s lesbian archdeacon) is determined to hand the building over to the National Trust – something which both Dorothy and Bennett himself find completely distasteful.

In their view the heritage industry has come to mean little more than hoards of strangers traipsing through ancestral homes to inspect the historic residue of ancient chamber pots.

The alternatives – flogging off the contents of the attic or selling the whole place to an elitist company with plans to relocate it to more desirable Dorset – aren’t held in much favour either.

Nicholas Hytner’s direction ensures a neatly executed transformation from dusty decay to pristine, tourist friendly sheen, Nicholas Le Prevost enthuses as the man from the National Trust, and Miles Jupp’s auctioneer convinces the old ladies that their future may hinge on the value of the cat’s bowl in Bennett’s often funny but loosely shaped satire.


Lyttelton at the National, South Bank, SE1 9PX
Tube | Waterloo
Currently in rep until at least 2nd April
£12 - £47
nationaltheatre.org.uk
 

For details of live broadcast on 21 March 2013 see ntlive.com

 

Photo: Catherine Ashmore


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People theatre review: National Theatre, London
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