The Habit of Art at The Original Theatre Online
If anything positive has emerged from the past year, it is the fact that digital theatre has risen to new heights. Through the releases of new and pre-recorded works, shows have been brought to unprecedented audiences in a time of need. The Habit of Art is one such gem. The production – initially filmed in 2018 by The Original Theatre – breathes fresh life into Alan Bennet’s drama.
Taking on the form of a play-within-a-play, The Habit of Art focuses on a group of actors rehearsing a production of Caliban’s Day: a fictitious meeting between W H Auden and Benjamin Britten. Once friends, they discuss the potentially disturbing themes in the latter’s final opera, Death in Venice, though the conversation often veers into their personal lives. The dialogue is raw, exposing and honest – not to mention brutally funny. However, the read-through frame narrative is at times tenuous as plotlines follow a missing director, a stagehand forced to fill in and a writer displeased with frequent changes to his script. These onstage practices are often interrupted, allowing for additional perceptions of the 20th-century creatives to be voiced while also encouraging introspection within the actors.
The Habit of Art, skilfully directed by Philip Franks, is a powerful and, above all, sincere production that constantly looks within itself, peeling back consecutive layers of each character progressively. Throughout, the atmosphere of a decrepit church hall turned rehearsal room is effortlessly evoked by set designer Adrian Linford, who manages to create several worlds inside a small stage.
Due praise must also be given to the stellar cast, in particular, Matthew Kelly and David Yelland. In their roles of Auden and Britten, each displays a gravitas that draws the audience into every word. Similarly, Jon Wark – whose character plays biographer Humphrey Carpenter – proves to be a talent to be reckoned with. Benjamin Chandler also brings innocence and joy to his part in a truly endearing performance.
In short, The Habit of Art possesses all that makes theatre great – from creative staging to a truly powerful cast. These curated facets elevate Alan Bennet’s masterful writing and, thanks to the online production, make the work even more accessible to audiences across the world.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
The Habit of Art is at The Original Theatre online from 3rd December until 28th February 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.