I don’t think I have ever seen an Alan Bennett play – in fact, until I read Smut with the E17 Book Club last year, I don’t think I had even read an Alan Bennett book!
So, I wanted to see People at the National Theatre – but by the time I thought to book it, the reasonably-priced tickets had all gone for weeks ahead. So, I was very excited to see that there was a live broadcast being shown at the Hackney Picturehouse as I’m a member.
I watched the Theatre Live series recently on Sky Arts, presented by Sandi Toksvig and had really enjoyed that kind of theatre / live TV hybrid. However, I had no idea what to expect from a National Theatre screening.
Obviously everything is timed, and we got a lovely view of the audience as they were all filing into the theatre, and waiting for the play to start. Then Emma Freud appeared to tell us that we were now getting to watch a 5 minute film about the play. Now THAT is something you don’t get at the theatre!
Frances De La Tour plays practically hermit-like ex-model Lady Dorothy Stacpoole – current owner of the family stately home that hasn’t been able to afford the upkeep on for many years. She lives in mainly one room with her faithful ‘companion’, Iris played by the wonderful Linda Bassett.
Her arch-deacon sister (Selina Cadell) is trying to persuade her to give the home over to the National Trust, but Dorothy abhors ‘people’. The thought of them traipsing all over her family’s precious land and property, just for the experience – although not actually experiencing it – is more than she can bear. She is also being ‘wooed’ by an auctioneer (the fabulous Miles Jupp) who believes he can offer her more than just an attic sale.
When she has a surprise visit by an old friend from her modelling days, Dorothy wonders whether he could prove to be her rather unconventional salvation – much to the disgust of her sister.
I absolutely loved this play. The mixture of ‘very proper’ and ‘downright improper’ reminded me very much of “The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson” within Smut. Parts of it seemed quite farcical, but the contrast of those moments with the deeper, darker ones felt very well-placed, very Bennett.
De La Tour commanded the stage and made Dorothy feel completely real – aided and abetted by the beautifully comedic timing of Linda Bassett.
I have to say that I think the screening of this was fantastic, and I may have enjoyed it more than if I had seen it live in the theatre. Unexpectedly, there were many cameras, given shots from many angles, close-ups and panning shots.
The stage set was wonderful, and I believe I may have missed a lot fo that from the ‘cheap seats’. I think I may also have lost a lot of the emotion in the performances, seeing them from afar. the cameras kind of directed you to where you should be looking. So I think that this was definitely a total success for National Theatre Live.
I have actually already booked to see the live screening of The Audience with Helen Mirren, so I am looking forward to that even more now.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theatre, and the whole experience of it, so don’t believe that live screenings can replace the feeling of ‘being there’, but now that I have been to one, I am happy to acknowledge that it is a very, very enjoyable second best!
People is showing at the National Theatre until 15th May 2013.