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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
5.0 out of 5 stars It comes to life from the page, 30 Nov. 2011
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
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 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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4.0 out of 5 stars disappointed, 11 Dec. 2010
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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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5.0 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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The Habit of Art
The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett (Paperback - 2010)
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