(NOTE. Alan Bennett, a seasoned dramatist still at the top of his form, looks into how well the genre of the rehearsal play may capture an extended conversation between the English poet W. H. Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten, collaborators on an opera in the final days of preparation. The Habit of Art as a title reflects Auden’s conviction that successful art is most likely produced by artists who, far from the romantic image of a lone genius struggling in a cold garret, just get on with the day-to-day business of writing. Of his many comedies, Dion Boucicault’s sturdy 1820 success London Assurance keeps coming back vibrantly to life, as in this bravura National Theatre production, deliciously well acted by Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale, and others, and shown to the wider world in HD live. Also offered to audiences everywhere is this NT Olivier broadcast of Michael Grandage’s Donmar Theatre production of King Lear, with Derek Jacobi (who for some time wanted Grandage to direct him in the role) as the fallible monarch, more sinned against than sinning.
A heavily scheduled three-week sojourn in London produces an omnibus review of eight plays: Caryl Churchill’s Fen, a somber account of working-class persons unable to improve their poverty-stricken lives; two plays by Terence Rattigan, Cause Célèbre (his last play, about the investigation of a murder) and the early Flight Path, set in war-time England, part of the current revival of Rattigan’s serviceable and familiar oeuvre; an American play by Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park, featuring a set of actors white and black who play the members of two families involved over the course of a generation in a changing Chicago neighborhood; David Eldridge’s intense drama The Knot of the Heart, a play about drug addiction very well realized on the Almeida’s stage by its artistic director, David Attenborough; a musically wonderful production of Beethoven’s solitary opera Fidelio, worth attending despite its lacklustre staging; true to form, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond continuing to draw audiences to their expertly realized, spirited productions in a variety of genres, as in their revival of this 1912 drama by Allan Monkhouse, Mary Broome, about a young housemaid who proves herself far more resourceful than the staid middle-class family she works for; and Mark O’Rowe’s frank dependence on the mode of three separated actors on a bare stage, established by Brian Friel in Faith Healer, which ends up bearing unhappily on his own original development of the formula in Terminus, a work set at night time in a seamy section of Dublin, though vibrantly well produced at the Young Vic.
Double cast in the two lead roles, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating as Dr Frankenstein and the Creature, this spectacular NT production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein reaches a huge multinational audience by way of HD transmission. Also available to wider audiences is this deeply affecting National Theatre production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, its setting reminiscent of a disused industrial building, with Zoë Wanamaker in the central role of Madame Ranevskaya, supported by equally brilliant performances of a fine ensemble.)