Two of our "regulars" went to see Alex at the end of November, beginning of December and both have written a review. So thanks to Lori and Penny for the following:
29 November matinee
The play is very good, with plenty of funny lines and superb performances from everyone. Frances de la Tour was marvellous as the stage manager; getting laughs from terse repetitions of 'Go on!' to simply a look. She's fantastic in the play, if underused during the second act.
Richard Griffiths Auden/Fitz is the main role of the play and he's very good as a slightly irascible, forgetful Fitz and is just as good as the punctuality obsessed, forgetful Auden, who is inclined to pee in the basin.
Adrian Scarborough's Donald is a bit sensitive, a bit neurotic and makes an unforgettable second act entrance! His Humphrey Carpenter is a competent fellow, at first alarmed by Auden mistaking him for a rent boy, but then calming down to interview the poet.
Alex's Henry is a confident, proficient actor, with hints of a slightly seedy youth. He's occasionally exasperated by Fitz and like Frances de la Tour can get a laugh with just a sharp look, discontented sigh or reluctance to shake hands goodbye with a just returned from the lavatory Auden. His Britten is reserved and anxious. Britten's desire for Auden's appreciation of 'Death in Venice' is a bit childlike, but eloquent and passionate.
The balance of rehearsal room and play is perfect, we see enough of the rehearsal to engage with the actors and the learn about the play and then we see what would be the heart of 'Caliban's Day', the meeting between Auden and Britten. All the actors are equally fantastic and seem to relish their roles.
Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art is a frame-story, a play about rehearsing – and making -- a play. In it, then, Alex plays Henry, an actor who takes two parts in the rehearsal of the play-within-the-play, the major role of Benjamin Britten and the role of Auden's servant Mr Boyle. Of these three parts, none is entirely what he might seem to be.
Alex, of course, delineates each character beautifully – watch the way in which body language alone can convey a shift from Benjamin Britten to Henry – and Act II is in some ways his act. He's onstage all of Act I, but often wandering around the margins or simply watching from the side; that act belongs more to Richard Griffiths as the actor Fitz who plays W.H. Auden. The play is structured around the withholding of Henry and Britten, because the character(s) Alex plays reveal themselves behind their masks in Act II, but I confess I wanted him to have more to do earlier on!
It's an interesting, overstuffed play, full of wit and sharpness as well as a few melancholic touches. Frances de la Tour, Adrian Scarborough, and Richard Griffiths are wonderful in the piece. But Alex is a real anchor for the complications of the work – Henry and Benjamin Britten need an actor of his theatrical weight-- and he does a marvelous, perfectly pitched job.