OK, so here's the thing about Alan Bennett—his genius as a playwright (imao) is that he combines super-accessible content with super-radical structure. Going back to the very beginning, he's constantly screwing with the fact that the play is being put on in a theater with an audience right there with the actors. He’s been doing that for fifty years, going back to Forty Years On in 1968, and up to Allelujah! in 2018. I don’t like all his plays, but for a long time, I was always interested in what the next play would do.
I’m sure someone has written the book on this stuff, but really, when it comes to theatrical gimmicks and tricks, to plays within plays within plays, to fourth wall breaking and genre-bending, I don’t think there’s anybody who does it better or less predictably.
And Allelujah! messed with me as much as any of them. It’s as much about our genre expectations as anything else, but it’s also about, well, just about being in the room with the people who are in the room with us. Paying attention, and missing things, and being wrong about what we are seeing. Being wrong, over and over again, about what the play is about.
They have made a movie of the play, now, and I do not understand the impulse to do that at all.
I don’t think there has been a good film adaptation of an Alan Bennett play. I haven’t seen all the TV stuff—I think the earliest play to be filmed is A Question of Attribution, which was originally half of an evening of one-acts, and which was only a fairly-good televised film. Then there was The Madness of King George, which, if I remember correctly, took out the entrance of the modern physician at the end, which made the play much less interesting. It’s a good movie, mind you, certainly the best of the lot, with terrific performances, but it doesn’t quite work as an adaptation. Then there’s The History Boys, which isn’t a good movie. Then The Lady in the Van which is probably a pretty good record of Maggie Smith’s performance, but which doesn’t work at all either as a film or as an adaptation. And now Allelujah! Sigh.
Mind you, there may not be a current playwright better served by the National Theater Live. I just wish the recording technology had been up to modern standards for some of the early plays.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,