Review: Alan Bennet’s People, Leeds Grand ****

Sian Phillips and Brigit Forsyth in People at the Leeds Grand

Sian Phillips and Brigit Forsyth in People at the Leeds Grand

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Plays don’t always travel well. You only need a couple of cast changes to alter the dynamics and something ends up lost in transit, so to speak.

Alan Bennett’s latest play, People, earned rave reviews during its sell-out run in the capital, first at the Lyttelton and then the National Theatre. And deservedly so.

I was lucky enough to see it during its run at the National when Frances de la Tour stole the show and it says something of Sian Phillips, who has taken over from de la Tour on the play’s UK tour, that her performance was the equal of her predecessor.

People is a biting comedy set in a dilapidated South Yorkshire country house that everyone from real estate developers to the National Trust want to get their mitts on. Dorothy (Phillips) is one of two ageing spinsters who live in the mansion that her archdeacon sister, played with aplomb by Selina Cadell, wants to hand over to the Trust. However, Dorothy has other ideas for the stately pile and events take an eye-opening turn when a porn producer turns up out of the blue. There is comedy and pathos here and if there are occasional moments when the play threatens to become a bit preachy, it’s pulled back by Bennett’s masterful dialogue. If Phillips excels so, too, does Brigit Forsyth as Iris, her elderly companion, and they are well supported by an impressive cast.

There are echoes here of Enjoy – Bennett’s 1980 comedy set in a back-to-back terrace in Leeds – but People is a more rounded and entertaining piece of theatre.

To November 9.

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