27 April 2013

People at the National Theatre (charming)

People has been recalled to the National Theatre after the initial run sold out. I was late to the game initially and missed the first run but I realised my mistake in time to get a ticket as soon as the second run went on sale.

Hence I managed to get a dead-centre seat in the Circle at a price about twice that I am used to paying for theatre tickets.

People has Englishness draped over it like a flag of St George during a football tournament. It is written by Alan Bennett, two of its main themes are the National Trust and the Church of England, and it stars National Treasure Frances de la Tour.

The theme is Chekovian. Lady Stacpoole's family have lived in the house since 1456 but now she lives in squalor and is trying to arrange a sale of heirlooms to raise some money. Her younger sister, a Deacon, has a different plan and that is to gift the house to the National Trust so that they can restore it while allowing the owners to carry on living there. Lady Stacpoole, who is close to being a recluse, objects to the NT plan because it would bring People in to the house.

Those People may be where the play gets its title but its energy and purpose comes from the People in the story. And there are a lot of them. Lady Stacpoole has a companion and an old flame who makes porno films. We also meet the cast and crew of one of these films, also a Bishop, an auctioneer and a terribly enthusiastic assessor from the National Trust.

Some of these people have dubious morals but they are all essentially nice.

The play is incredibly rich with so much going on, though all the action takes place in one room.

It would spoil the surprise to say much about what all the People talk about or do but I can say that the story is full of surprises and that none of these are unnaturally forced in to the situation just for effect.

This is the story of Lady Stacpoole and Frances de la Tour carries that burden with casual ease. She is stubborn, a little eccentric, and has retained her lover for life as characterised in the little dance shown in the official poster. There are a few leg waving dances to pop songs and each one brings smiles to the faces of the audience.

That audience knows that the play is targeted at them and they conform to their expected role laughing self-deprecatingly at all the witty comments about the National Trust to which they all belong.

People is maddeningly entertaining. We are skilfully manipulated to fall in love with the characters and despite knowing that we are being manipulated we willingly do so. The charm is effusive.

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