Frances De La Tour shines in Alan Bennett's witty 'People'

Nov 12, 2012

History Boys writer back with a 'mordantly funny' take on the English heritage industry

Catherine Ashmore

What you need to know
Alan Bennett's new play People, directed by Nicholas Hytner, has opened at the National Theatre. Bennett's previous plays include The History Boys and The Madness of King George.

Frances de la Tour (Rising DampHarry Potter) stars as Dorothy, a former Sixties model and regal owner of a decaying stately home she can no  longer afford. As she contemplates her future, she is wooed by the National Trust, a slick auctioneer, and a roguish porn filmmaker.

Linda Bassett (East is East, Calender Girls) stars as Dorothy's companion. Selina Cadell plays Dorothy's mannish archdeacon sister and Peter Egan appears as an adult film producer.

Runs until 2 April.

What the critics like
Bennett's a story of a country house and its upper-crust occupants being turned into part of the heritage industry is mordantly funny, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. The playwright has "lost none of his edge".

This is a grand evening, says Libby Purves in The Times. It distils Bennett's preoccupations with authenticity, history, populism, nostalgia, smut, batty old ladies and the Thatcher legacy. You leave it moved by understated tragedy, but it's "wonderfully funny too".

Frances de La Tour is "on wonderful form" as the haughty heroine, pluckily facing up to her lonely old age, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. "She achieves exactly the right mixture of wit and understated poignancy."

What they don't like
Bennett's writing brims with ideas - perhaps too many, says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. He doesn't seem to have decided what this play's main concern is - "yet it has bite".

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