People is Alan Bennett’s sixth play for the National Theatre, and this first tour date, in Birmingham, also marked the reopening of The REP – which, having undergone a massive refurbishment, now forms part of the re-development of the new Library in the city’s centre.
This humorous, slightly provocative play by Bennett, working in collaboration with the Director of The National, Nicholas Hytner, is deliciously cheeky; a down-to-earth comedy.
The retired, but definitely not the retiring sort, Dorothy Stacpoole (Siân Phillips) is in a dilemma as to what to do best with the estate she owns, which has proved to be a money pit over the years and left her strapped for cash. The house is almost condemned, yet the vultures are circling. She, in the company of, Iris (Brigit Forsyth), have a series of people visit, each with an agenda. An auctioneer; a representative of the National Trust; her own sister the local archdeacon, June (Selina Cadell), and lastly, and somewhat suspiciously in the dark of the night, an old actor friend turned film maker of the distinctively dubious kind.
Dorothy is up to doing something creative with the place even if it means moving it to another county brick by brick, or allowing the palatial qualities of the house to feature in a film destined only to be sold from under the counter. In other words, she’d rather not take June’s lead and release her riches, however unkempt they might be, to the care of the National Trust. For them to exhibit and commentate on, and be used in ways to appease the curiosity of the masses. Nothing worse than people traipsing through one’s house, she thinks, ‘people spoil things’ she says, and is quite unbending of that opinion.
It is a colourful story. Phillips is so good with the wistful musings. The jibes delivered from the mouths of essential players, are contemptuously comical, and arrive quickly enough, so no time to get bored. A mine sweep made of the set, transforming the cavernous room from covered up decay to a new brilliance, topped with a twinkling, crystal chandelier, is breathtaking to watch.
All in all Friday was a memorable night. The cast accepted warm, enthusiastic applause and then remained onstage at the play’s end. Selina Cadell, (recent TV – The Lady Vanishes, Doc Martin) stepped forward from the professional line-up and took it upon herself to deliver a very personal acknowledgement of the high reputation of The Birmingham Repertory Theatre and her fondness for it, having performed in her first play there back in 1975. The REP’s Artistic Director, Roxana Silbert also gave recognition for the newly-developed building and how important it will be for the Art and Culture in Birmingham looking forward. For me, the reviewer, I was happy that my first time reviewing a show at the venue fell on such a special occasion.
People showing at the Birmingham Rep until September 21 – Details on the website Photography by Ellie Kurttz
FOUR STARS ****
Note: Reviewer, Debra Hall, attended the press night showing of People on Friday September 06 in an official capacity on behalf of Remotegoat Stage. This review also published here
Below images shows the new building in Birmingham which houses The REP and the library