(Charles Spencer’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 11/8.)
At 78, Alan Bennett has lost little of his mischievous wit and sense of the ridiculous. His eagerly awaited new comedy, People, may not be out of the top drawer of his work, lacking the emotional depth and sly subtlety of his best writing, but it is entertaining, funny and touching.
In his preface to the published text, Bennett describes People, with characteristic diffidence, as a “play for England, sort of”, and as so often he finds much to grumble about. He firmly fingers the Thatcherite Eighties as the period in which Britain took a wrong turning, when “everything had a price and if it didn’t… it didn’t have a value”. But he also has a pop at the National Trust, an institution I am sure many of his core audience revere. His highly sympathetic heroine characterises it as a “pretend England… so decent, so worthy, so dull”, and likens it to the Anglican Church with the “sacrament of coffee and walnut cake”.