A new Alan Bennett play for the National Theatre is always guaranteed to get bums on seats and The Habit of Art is no exception – all performances sold out shortly after going on sale. So is this likely to be another History Boys? Unlikely but that doesnt mean its bad, Bennet has to have a real off day to be bad, but perhaps the subject matter will prevent the stellar success of History Boys.
If you’ve ever been backstage at the National, walking into the Lyttleton will be a little of a shock for the senses – where you expect a set is a detailed replica of one of the Nationals rehearsal rooms.
History of Art is therefore a play within a play – we are witnessing rehearsals for a play examining a meeting between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten. Neither are likable characters and nor are the ‘actors’ playing them in the rehearsal room and that’s part of the problem – you don’t really warm to them and therefore don’t care.
Yes the clever writing is here and yes the plot is well conceived and delivered and its nothing short of entertaining but at the end of the day you just dislike both Auden and Britten.