Review: The Habit of Art at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

by David Fox

The Habit of Art at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Written by Alan Bennett, Directed by Philip Franks

Alan Bennett is one our greatest and most celebrated playwrights, with a cavalcade of stage and screen blockbusters including The History Boys, The Madness of King George and Talking Heads. He is applauded as a genius for his sharp character observations and treasured for the way he beautifully balances wit, wistfulness and compassion.

In The Habit of Art, Bennett gives us a play about a meeting between the poet WH Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten. The play explores friendship, rivalry and heartache, and this multilayered masterpiece examines the joy, pain and emotional cost of creativity.

Matthew Kelly, John Wark & David Yelland photo by Helen Maybanks
Matthew Kelly, John Wark & David Yelland photo by Helen Maybanks

This production directed by Philip Franks marks the first ever revival of the play and stars the Olivier Award winning Matthew Kelly (Of Mice and Men, Toast and Pride and Prejudice) and David Yelland (Chariots of Fire and The Crown).

I really enjoyed The Habit of Art, interesting, intelligent, and most importantly very funny. The play had a dual narrative and was very cleverly written. Firstly we were presented with a group of actors in rehearsal for a play; secondly we had the play about W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten itself. We were able to see the process of actually putting on a play and humorous observations on actors, writers, and directors. Then the ‘play within a play’ structure allowed the actors to pause and comment on the life of Auden. The subject matter and some of the details of Auden’s life were quite shocking at times, but I learned a great deal about him from this play, and it made me want to research his life after the play and seek out some of his poems.

Alexandra Guelff & Robert Mountford photo by Helen Maybanks
Alexandra Guelff & Robert Mountford photo by Helen Maybanks

I was really looking forward to seeing Matthew Kelly in this play, having seen him at the RSC last year. He did not disappoint and was excellent in the dual role of the actor Fitz and his character of W.H. Auden, with a marked difference in how he played the two roles. He was supported by a strong and likeable supporting cast, with David Yelland also excellent as Britten. If you have experienced any other of Alan Bennett’s play, films, or books and are a fan of his wry observations on life, then you will find lots to enjoy here and I would thoroughly recommend this play!

This was my first visit to Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, and I was really impressed. It was warm and welcoming with great facilities. Parking was easy and cheap at the Belgrade Plaza car park (only a 1 minute walk), and there were a variety of restaurants close by. I chose however to eat at the theatre’s cafe bar – which has an excellent fresh salad bar and offers snacks (the tomato soup was delicious!) I had a great time at the Belgrade Theatre and can’t wait to go back again!

Matthew Kelly & David Yelland photo by Helen Maybanks
Matthew Kelly & David Yelland photo by Helen Maybanks

The Habit of Art is playing at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, until 10th November. Tickets can be booked online at belgrade.co.uk/event/alan-bennetts-the-habit-of-art


This isn’t a sponsored post. #BrumHour was invited to the Habit of Art by Belgrade Theatre.

Advertisements