A chance encounter

Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art, which will be streamed over weekend, shows a fictional meeting between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten

Published: 13th June 2020 06:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th June 2020 06:39 AM   |  A+A-

A scene from the play

Express News Service

BENGALURU:  The year is 1972. An unexpected visitor comes to the Oxford college room of the poet WH Auden. It is none other than composer Benjamin Britten, who is preparing an opera on the novella Death in Venice by Auden’s father-in-law, Thomas Mann. The two great artistes have not met for 30 years. This meeting may have never happened in real life but makes for an interesting plot in English playwright Alan Bennett’s play, The Habit of the Art. It is going to be streamed online for the Indian audience for the first time on June 13 and June 14. 

Like many other show organisers, the team behind this one too had to cancel the first leg of their tour at the Devonshire Park Theatre, UK, due to the pandemic. But the show must go on and now, the play, which premiered in 2009, is all set to go digital. “We are so sad that our much-loved production is being forced off the road in these exceptional circumstances. We all have some testing times ahead and I hope that this filmed recording will provide our audiences now at home with some welcome inspiration, entertainment and remind us all of the vital importance of art and all those who make it,” says Alastair Whatley, artistic director of the Original Theatre Company, under which the play has been produced.

While the play revolves around a fictional meeting between W H Auden and Benjamin Britten, Bennett, who has classics like Forty Years On, Talking Heads to his credit, put together a play imagining a meeting that never happened. Actor Matthew Kelly, says, “Audiences will get a multi-layered play that covers sex, creativity, death and old age.”

Agrees his co-actor, David Yelland, who plays Benjamin Britten. “I hope the audience will share my feelings about the play, which is full of wonderfully witty discussions of the creative art. It also has some funny observations from time to time. And it’s written by someone who cares for his subject,” he says, adding that the words heart, wit and brilliance sum up the play the best. 

The 64-year-old director of the play, Philip Frank, hopes the audience feels included, challenged, amused and moved with the play. “I don’t want them to think that it’s a difficult play about a highly intellectual subject. It’s actually about friendship, work, regret, getting older, love and your job,” says Frank, who fell in love with theatre at the age of six when his parents took him to watch William Shakespeare’s Tempest. 
 The play will stream on June 13 and 14 on BookMyShow, 7 pm onwards. 


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