Hymn directed by Nadia Fall and Cocktail Sticks directed by Nicholas Hytner are two National Theatre Productions of one act plays by Alan Bennett currently showing together as Untold Stories at the Duchess Theatre. In both plays, Alex Jennings plays Alan Bennett. The music is by George Fenton.
What can I say? I laughed. I was tempted to wipe a tear. Yes, these works are nostalgic for a time past when a special family meal would be lettuce, tomato, and a tin of salmon. How well one remembers those days. But Bennett does not allow himself to become sentimental or maudlin. He captures also the dilemma (?) of the grammar school educated student whose education separated him (and also her but more often it was him) from parents and background. Both plays raise the issues of class, gender, and sexuality that we have come to associate with Bennett’s work. Further, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks examine and ultimately celebrate both familial love and the challenges of being a creative artist, of knowing that as a writer one will mine one’s own past.
The performance and staging were excellent though, particularly in Hymn, I found the set just a little too dare I say “Brechtian” in its rather alienating drop-sheeted furnishings and visible floods and so forth. However, this is but a minor comment. The acting was superb. Jennings, in particular, is almost uncanny in the way he captures Bennett.
All in all an excellent way to spend one’s last afternoon in London.