Following a successful run at the National Theatre, Alan Bennett’s acclaimed new comedy, People, arrived at The Lowry this week as part of its 2013 autumn tour.
Lady Dorothy Stacpoole, elegantly played by the perfectly cast Sian Phillips, is fighting against plans by bossy younger sister Archdeacon June (Selina Cadell) to donate the families once grand dilapidated country estate to the National Trust. Lady Dorothy however has other ideas from selling it to a questionable commercial concern, would like to move it to Dorset or perhaps Wiltshire, to renting it out as a location for porn films, both options seeming more appealing than having people traipsing through the property.
The production opens with Dorothy and her companion Iris (Brigit Forsyth) sitting in shabby clothes in front of a meagre electric heater, living out of one room of the once splendid house. Bob Crowley’s set is elegant and charmingly portrays a once grand stately home which is now a shadow of its former self. Pieces of art which adorn the walls are partially covered with old dust sheets and exquisite furniture buried under blankets to keep our leading ladies warm in the bitterly cold house whilst they dream of central heating.
“everything had a price and if it didn’t, it didn’t have a value”
Bennett’s stamp on the piece is clear and thought provoking, he’s firm in highlighting his disdain for Thatcher’s Eighties, when “everything had a price and if it didn’t, it didn’t have a value”. He also has several pops at the National Trust, an organisation I’m guessing (partly due to the sniggering) many of the audience are very familiar with. With Dorothy at one point comparing it to the Anglican Church “pretend England, so decent, so worthy, so dull”, with their very own “sacrament of coffee and walnut cake”, a comparison greeted by titters and nods of agreement.
Phillips is elegant and strong as Lady Dorothy, her relationship with companion Iris (Forsyth) is a sweet and special one, both actresses complement each other well. There is slowness to the pace of the first half which picks up as we move further into the production, by Act two when the porn company have arrived to shoot their film the buzz of the crew quickens the pace further and we continue comfortably to the end of the show. Bennett’s characters are well defined with mixture of wit and tenderness. Through direction from Nicholas Hytner, People succeeds in both entertaining the audience and making them, like their heroine long for an England when the past was merely the past rather than prettified and marketed for the masses.