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The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett

The Habit of Art (2010)

by Alan Bennett

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Reading a play is often more difficult than viewing a play. It is certainly different in many ways. Yesterday I had the opportunity to see the The Habit of Art By Alan Bennett as presented via a rebroadcast of National Theatre (of England) Live’s 2010 broadcast.
Alan Bennett’s acclaimed play The Habit of Art, with Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings, was offered by the Music Box Theater cinema as part of the National Theatre's 50th anniversary celebrations.
The story of the play is simple: Benjamin Britten, sailing uncomfortably close to the wind with his new opera, Death in Venice, seeks advice from his former collaborator and friend, W. H. Auden. During this imagined meeting, their first for twenty-five years, they are observed and interrupted by, amongst others, their future biographer and a young man from the local bus station. The actual play as written by Alan Bennett is a bit more complicated. It is actually staged as a play within a play, thus the audience sees the actors and the stage management perform a run-through of the play, late in its preparation for its formal presentation. This was somewhat more complicated in the reading than when viewing the play. In addition to the main story of the Auden/Britten meeting the work of the actors is interrupted from time to time by discussions of changes to the script, questions of appropriate location of certain scenes and other issues that one might naturally encounter while preparing to stage a play. This aspect of the play was rather fascinating as the audience was provided a look inside the world of the theater. It reminded me a bit of the play "Noises Off" by Michael Frayn in this aspect although it was not nearly as anarchic as that wonderful comedy. The poetry of Auden is present in the character and he explains what he does succinctly and simply in the phrase "I have the habit of art." That being said, he has many other very human habits and the play highlights this very human side of Auden, as it does for Britten. The staging is exceptional and the acting superb with Richard Griffiths as Auden, Alex Jennings as Britten, and Frances de la Tour as the Stage Manager.
Alan Bennett’s play is as much about the theatre as it is about poetry or music. It looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography. It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion’s spent: ultimately, on the habit of art ( )
  jwhenderson | Dec 29, 2013 |
A play built around a fictional meeting of W. H. Auden and Benjamin Britten. Britten explains his attraction to boys by saying his doesn’t prey on them. He attends to them and listens and they play together… musically. He admits that maybe one sort of playing is a substitute for another sort of playing. ( )
  TonySandel2 | Feb 11, 2013 |
A meditation on fiction and biography. This did not really catch fire for me. Bannett obviously had a job on his hands following up on the marvellous "History Boys".
I think the problem is that, as Bennett more or less says in his intro, the principal characters are not very likeable. They are interesting only because they wrote some good stuff. And as little of their work is quoted or referred to here, there is not a great deal ofinterest in the play.

(It worked a lot better on stage with Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour in excellent form. And I admit that Griffith's Auden was given some excellent monologue to spout.)
  GeorgeBowling | Jun 19, 2011 |
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A play which is as much about the theatre as it is about poetry or music. It looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography. It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion's spent: ultimately, on the habit of art.… (more)

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