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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett
The name of the author is sufficient recommendation. The gist of the play - a play within a play in rehearsal - is an imaginary meeting between Benjamin Britten and W H Auden at a time when BB was composing "Death in Venice". Neither had met for almost 25 years after their estranged relationship during their joint years domiciled in America in the early years of WW2...
Published on 18 Dec 2009 by Stanley Stewart

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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius, or a lapse into senility?
Frances de la Tour was absolutely stunning. I kept forgetting that she was actually part of the play, and not genuinely a stage-manager struggling with: a questionable script, a weak, but possibly once great lead actor, and an egotistical play-write.

As far as the "play-within-a-play" genre goes, this is possibly the most ambitious that I've come across. I...
Published on 13 Jan 2010 by Gavin Jackson


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett, 18 Dec 2009
By 
Stanley Stewart (U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Hardcover)
The name of the author is sufficient recommendation. The gist of the play - a play within a play in rehearsal - is an imaginary meeting between Benjamin Britten and W H Auden at a time when BB was composing "Death in Venice". Neither had met for almost 25 years after their estranged relationship during their joint years domiciled in America in the early years of WW2. Britten's health was now deteriorating; he died in 1976. The play is both erudite and elegant and there is some delicious Bennett humour, too.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Habit, 27 Jan 2010
By 
Jeremy Hawker (Norway) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
I can't go and see this play, so I thought I would read it. Of course it's nothing like the experience of the theatre, but it was well worth buying. The thing I enjoyed most was Alan Bennett's introduction in which he recalls Auden's time as Professor of Poetry at Oxford in the late 'fifties, while Bennett was a student--Auden's lectures are published in The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (Vintage International)--and he contrasts this with Auden's stay in 1970-72 when Christ Church gave him a sort of retirement cottage to live in in the college's grounds. It is this period that the play is about: Auden, the fat celebrity, constantly repeating the same old stories, unable to write anything of value, his great work as a poet long finished, is visited first by a rent boy and then by his old friend Benjamin Britten. The introduction explains how a play-within-a-play structure evolved out of Bennett's protracted arguments with the subsequent director, the otherwise amiable Nicholas Hytner; these led Bennett to introduce the two other characters in the play, namely Auden's biographer Humphrey Carpenter, and the woman who is the stage manager of the "inner" play. As you might expect from a Bennett play, this work is as amusing and well-written as its background is well-researched. About Alan Bennett, the Observer's reviewer of the play said: "[...] the lure of a Bennett play doesn't lie in historical themes; it comes from sentences, riffs and free-standing blasts. Audiences go to hear not just his voice, ventriloquised through his characters, but his views. " That's Bennett and this play in a nutshell.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alan Bannett's 'Habit of Art', 10 Jan 2010
By 
Morganlefay (English Home Counties) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
The text and original cast list of Alan Bennett's latest stage play (2009). Bennett is a writer whose work stands reading many times, each time revealing something new. Before going to see the play I wanted to read the script so that I would clearly understand what was going on. I'm glad I did because the play has a complicated frame device, with some actors being different characters at different moments in the action. Having read the script I am now all set up to get the most enjoyment out of the stage performance when I go.I also love Faber books because of their stylish fonts. I like this a lot.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bennett on top form, 28 Dec 2009
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
Bennett's plays pack an enormous range of thought-provoking ideas into a deceptively casual bundle. Bennett's own diary and essay writings reveal his occasional doubts that he is a proper writer, and this question of the relation of the individual to his artistic work seems to me to be the underlying theme of the play. W H Auden and Benjamin Britten (famous mid 20th Century poet and composer respectively) are shown in a fictional late-life encounter. Not too much that is admirable is presented - their "private faces" are shown as anxious and far from admirable; by contrast the greatness of their creative work is taken as given, supported by comments from the actors stepping out of their roles to talk to the Author and Director characters. Another theme of the play is the gap between the high culture that the main characters represent and the excluded, inarticulate mass, represented by a rentboy ordered by telephone by Auden just before the play begins. It is their very inarticulateness which disempowers them. Perhaps the greatness of Auden and Britten owes as much to the fact that they are listened to, as to what they say?

Although the structure of the play is complex, with each actor playing an actor and the part which the actor is playing, this isn't an intellectual construct for the purpose of being avant-garde, but a solution to writing about famous men about whom many of the audience will know little more than their names.

A fascinating play, and one which is infused with human sympathy, and affectionate humour. Bennett's ability to get us thinking seriously without telling us what to think is a rare talent ideed, and one to cherish.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Study of two flawed characters, 13 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
I enjoyed reading this and would love to see it on stage or adapted for TV or Radio - although chances are that this play will remain in the shadow of The History Boys. In turns funny and catty the play for me is about 'habit' namely the way an artist's character and behaviour is justified or excused as he or she pursues 'art' no matter what pain and damage is inflicted on the artist's friends, lovers, families. Also 'habit' as in clothing or disguise - the pressure that the artist feels in having to behave in certain ways, according to expectation and etiquette - hiding one's true nature (good or bad) and acting the part society expects you to play. Heavy man! Bennett is funnier than this review - I assure you!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It comes to life from the page, 30 Nov 2011
By 
Emily - London (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
This play - with a helpful introduction by Bennett - is built around the tried and tested approach of a play within a play. The conceit is that WH Auden and Benjamin Britten might have met in late life, having not spoken to each other for years after a falling out. Britten calls on Auden in his squalid rooms at Christ Church - where he is being put up by the College as a kind of celebrity old fart in residence.

A play is written about this, and the exasperated playwright watches as the cast rehearse it, cutting and altering his lines. It allows bits of a play that would never have made it to be included - discarded publicly in front of the audience, having been explained - the commentary on poetry for instance, the references to Caliban.

The audience can watch fascinated because they are learning so much about Auden in the process - including about his preferences for sucking off rent boys - sucker rather than suckee. They are also learning about how it is so much more profitable for an actor to do commercial voiceovers and can we get a move on with the rehearsal so we can get on out by six. And little details about how rent boys operate - suitable for recycling at dinner parties.

The author, meanwhile, can be satisfied that he is really communicating the dilemmas of the writer - about how to get across a huge amount of biographical information about the character, about how to make the audience believe him, about the choices in dramatisation. Should the acting lead wear a mask to truly represent the awfulness of Auden's cow hide face? Can the play carry a literary commentary on what happens to Caliban the outsider? Is the play really about Auden the celebrity - or about the outsider the rent boy who visits him, who speaks at the end, as the author wants him to? Is Carpenter, the biographer, the narrator, just a device, or can Donald make him `the centre of the play. Its heart' as his ego demands but the author does not?

Stuart, the rent boy, speaks his part and says: `I want to figure... Because there's always someone left out... the great men's lives are neatly parcelled for posterity, but what about us? When do we take our bow? Not in biography. Not even in diaries... unnameable boys, the flings, the tricks. The fodder of art."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unlikely meeting, 13 Aug 2010
By 
A. J. Russell-pattison "Tony" (Manchester. U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
I havn't seen this play at the theater yet and normally find "reading" plays difficult (as opposed to prose). Given that this play has it's main protagonists speaking for themselves at times while being played by actors doing a play about them at others, I was unsure whether I would get it! However, get it I did. It has all the poignancy and perfect pitch of all Bennetts work; the one liners are bitchy and beautifull. W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten would have been proud I think! Well worth a read before and after seeing the play!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Bennett, 17 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
Fine revisionist view of Britten and Auden, Very humorous showing deep insight and painstaking research. Would love to see a revival of the play on the stage.
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4.0 out of 5 stars disappointed, 11 Dec 2010
By 
Barbara Adair "Barri" (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Paperback)
Saw it on stage and decided to read it as well, since one often misses a few points at a performance. Somewhat disappointed. A lot of laughs but lacked the profundity one expects from Bennett. This may indicate a lack in me rather than in the play. Read it and see if you agree.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius, or a lapse into senility?, 13 Jan 2010
By 
Gavin Jackson (Addlestone, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Habit of Art (Hardcover)
Frances de la Tour was absolutely stunning. I kept forgetting that she was actually part of the play, and not genuinely a stage-manager struggling with: a questionable script, a weak, but possibly once great lead actor, and an egotistical play-write.

As far as the "play-within-a-play" genre goes, this is possibly the most ambitious that I've come across. I spent most of the first half cringing at the awfulness of the rent-boy loving side of the WH Auden character (which I'm not convinced is quite as awful as depicted in the fictional play). In fact, I almost didn't return for the second half.

I did, however, spend the interval considering what the point of it all was, and came to the conclusion that the fictional actors (possibly at the end of careers that may or may not have ever amounted to anything) were struggling with an awful script that they had no choice to be a part of as job offers were no longer abundant. So the feelings of repulsion that I felt, I managed to level at the fictional play-write and not Bennett.

So, did the fictional play have to be so ghastly, and what would Michael Gambon have done with the same material (Richard Griffith having taking over the lead role)? On balance, I think the first answer is actually "yes". Giving Bennett the benefit of the doubt, he had to overdo the awfulness to clear the way of the fictional actors to put forward their own thoughts; complaining about a script that is just slightly bad may come across as just petulance, but when the script is unquestionably awful, the audience is more likely to be on the side of the fictional actors, and no one would even consider siding with the fictional play-write.

As for Gambon, recalling his superb performances in "The Singing Detective" and "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover", if anything, I think his performance as the fictional WHA would have been much more grotesque than RG's (I picture Alec Guiness's Fagan as opposed to Ron Moody's much cuddly version). But, when playing the actor, he would have been levelling his ire at full force against the fictional play-write, and at the same time, praising and describing his idol (the real WHA) with great eloquence. I think Gambon would have strived for a once great actor, brought low by alcoholism (an Oliver Reed type); whereas Griffith could only manage to portray an aging ham-actor who probably never amounted to much in the first place (a Donald Sinden perhaps).
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The Habit of Art
The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett (Paperback - 2010)
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