8 June 2013

Untold Stories at the Duchess Theatre (perfectly charming)

I expected Untold Stories to be charming, I did not expect it to be perfect.

Alan Bennett has a supreme way with words and he also has a beautiful way of speaking them, as his seminal readings of Winnie the Pooh amply demonstrate.

These Untold Stories have been told before in a book and an audiobook read by Bennett. The play goes one step further and adds some gentle images to the text and sounds.

Technically it lacks Bennett himself but Alex Jennings is so close to the original that it is had to believe it is an act. Everything about Jennings as Bennett is perfect; the school-master dress,  the slow steady movement, the accent and the measured delivery.

Jennings' performance is both masterful and delightful. Only at the end, when the loud applause rang through the theatre, was the mask removed and a smiling and lively Jennings took Bennett's place.

The two short plays were essentially monologues, and I would have been content if that was all that they were, but in Cocktail Sticks Bennett was joined by other people in his life, notably his mother and father, who chipped in with a few words occasionally to give their perspectives on events in Bennett's life.

Quite a lot was said about their ageing and deaths which twinged the sentimental narrative with sadness. It was utterly moving and I was utterly moved.

I suppose that there might be English people out there who do not know, or get, Bennett but for those of us that do this was a worthy homage to his language and life.

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