(Claire Brennan’s article appeared in the Observer, 9/9.)

It’s 1972. To the Oxford college rooms of the poet WH Auden comes an unexpected visitor, the composer Benjamin Britten, who is preparing an opera on the novella Death in Venice by Auden’s father-in-law, Thomas Mann. The two great artists have not met for 30 years. Also to the rooms (though not all at the same time) come two cleaners, a rent boy and a BBC interviewer, Humphrey Carpenter (subsequently to become biographer to both men), who narrates the encounter. Sound artsy-fartsy? It’s not. Alan Bennett sidesteps clever-clogsy-ness by presenting the action of his 2009 drama as a play within a play. The result is a take on life, sexuality, death and everything, that is witty, moving, laugh-aloud funny and understatedly profound.

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Photo: The Times

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