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Theatre Review: People ***

Joy Watters reviews a production with a lacklustre first act but comes alive in the second.

Alan Bennett’s play, first performed in 2012, was born out of his numerous visits to stately homes and wondering what is to happen to crumbling piles when the money dries up. In People, Dorothy Stacpoole is the aristocratic owner of a run-down country house in Yorkshire which the National Trust and other interested parties are keen to acquire.

Dorothy wants things left as they are, amidst the decay and dirt, rather than having the place spruced up and the works of art showcased with tricksy ideas for displays. Bennett gets the boot into the National Trust with their overenthusiastic rep coming up with more and more ridiculous ideas.

It is not one of Bennett’s outstanding pieces of work, and Patrick Sandford’s direction does little to lift it from the unremarkable. The first act where various interested parties visit the house inspecting the crumbling edifice and its contents is lacklustre.

There is however a comic gem in the second half when a film crew come to make a porn film, Reach For the Thigh, with one of the house’s ancient four-poster beds taking centre stage. Parodying the genre and the crew for all its worth, the performance finally makes contact with the audience.

Bennett’s delight in eccentric women is well known, and there are a couple of missed opportunities here. They are unfortunately caricatures of women with all the veracity of a panto dame rather than portraits. Valerie Cutko as Dorothy, the aristocratic house owner, bestrides the stage in a manly fashion, bereft of femininity—there is no touch of poignancy for the situation in which she finds herself.

Ensemble mainstay Irene Allan, as the companion Iris, is made to screech throughout, mainly sitting legs akimbo while dressed as dowdy frump.

Runs in repertoire until October 12.

Tags: theatre

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