People

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Alan Bennett's hotly anticipated new comedy isn't quite the scabrous assault on the National Trust that speculation suggested. The Trust, represented by waggly-moustached old smoothie Lumsden (Nicholas le Prevost), hardly comes across well.

But Lumsden isn't the only one eyeing-up the dilapidated fifteenth century Yorkshire home of jaded old recluse Dorothy Stacpoole (Frances de la Tour). Bevan (Miles Jupp), the deliciously Mephistophelean agent of The Concern, a cabal of shady one percenters, wants to physically move the house to Wiltshire. And a certain Mr Theodore (Peter Egan) offers Dorothy £5,000 to film a porno inside it.

'People' represents Bennett in loopier mood than we've seen for a long while. This mischievous, wilfully provocative play sees Dorothy and her loyal companion Iris (the brilliant Linda Bassett) assailed by a sort of cartoonish New World Order. But it does have a simple plea at its heart: that things and people be allowed to decay when it's their time, not made to live on in an unnaturally perky, access all areas afterlife.

Seventy-eight years old and as much a national treasure as any musty Tudor pile, it's a pleasant irony that Bennett remains willing to share himself with us. His play is most persuasive at its most personal, and De la Tour gives a splendid performance as elegant, weary Dorothy. She retreated to the family home after youthful heartbreak and now wants nothing out of life beyond privacy and functional central heating. The Trust and The Concern want to turn her into a sad exhibit in her own home; at least the porn people fix the boiler.

Bennett lands several bodyblows on the heritage industry, and his vision of the house reborn as a Trust property is exquisitely grotesque. But 'People' is too jolly to make you feel anything more than mildly uncomfortable next time you make a bank holiday pilgrimage to some stately home.

As with his 2009 play for the National Theatre, 'The Habit of Art', 'People' is comparatively minor Bennett. But it's funnier and more focused, and deserves a longer life. And as ever with Bennett at the National, you get a deftly amusing, economical production from Nicholas Hytner, a sumptuous set (courtesy of Bob Crowley) and a cast to die for.

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2.8 / 5

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electronicbear

Absolute rubbish. Very lame jokes, the characters are caricatures about whom one does not care one bit. Every line of dialogue is a heavy handed set up for a disappointing punch line. Copious amounts of alcohol might have helped but we left after the first half.

bruce

After the first half the group I was with wondered what all the fuss was about. The second half was a bit better and we enjoyed the farcical moments particularly. The set is impressive and Frances de la Toure puts in a good central performance. But all of that cannot disguise the fact that this is to my mind a third rate piece of theatre written by an ageing playwright who appears to be losing his comic edge. I expect something better from the National than this to be honest. If it hadn't been written by Alan Bennet it would never been performed here.

theatreguyMike

We took a large group to see this, all keenly anticipating another great Bennett evening. Sorry to say most, with a few exceptions, were "disappointed", and that word could be easily overheard many times as the audience left the theatre. For me this was a real feeble comedy which failed to come to grips with its subjects, all easy targets. The actors, all favourites, cruised through their roles on autopilot, and even the now famous scene change when the stately home is tidied up went off at half-cock with some dust-sheets left behind. Maybe this was an unusually 'off' night, and I do hope those who have already booked have a good time. But otherwise don't raise your expectations....

TomB

It’s not Bennett’s greatest writing but sufficiently amusing to provide an evening of good entertainment. The casting was good and the set was brilliant when revealed in all it’s glory having been finally cleaned and polished by an army of NT volunteer curators. The filming of the porn video “Reach for the Thigh” was pure farce, complete with the arrival of a Bishop and we can empathies with Dorothy Stacpoole who becomes a living exhibit in the growing heritage industry. It’s not surprising that Bennett would target the Thatcherite 80’s when everything had a price rather than a value, but I guess most of his core audience probably hold the NT in high regard. The intention must be to make them question their motives for volunteering and the consequences of membership without responsibility of a self selected organisation which benefits a largely Blairite urban minority, whilst robbing the majority via gift aid.

Alan

Another winner from Bennett and Hytner. A fine production in every sense. Thoroughly appreciated by the audience, with no sign of leavers at the interval (compared with the big exit for "Damned by Dispair"). Equally enjoyed by the audience and the cast, I would imagine