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February 19, 2021

Alan Bennett In Five Plays


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Quietly political, humanistic and reflective, the work of Alan Bennett ranges from collections of emotive monologues to witty and satirical plays. For more than five decades, Alan Bennett has reflected on the virtues of society and explored how people struggle to meet those demands.

Here are five plays illustrating the breadth of Bennett’s work.

Kafka’s Dick, 1986 (US/UK)

Offering a commentary on fame and the inescapable pressure that along comes with it, Kafka’s Dick is an fascinating take on the legacy left behind by those in the spotlight.

The play opens with Kafka near the end of his life, famously requesting of his friend Max Brod that his works be burned at his death. Flashing forward to the present, Kafka fanatic Sydney is labouring away at an article on Kafka. As Sydney works through his writing, who should miraculously appear but Kafka himself, followed closely by Brod and finally by Kafka’s father, who is looking to vindicate his image in history.

A Chip in the Sugar, 1992 (UK)

A Chip in the Sugar was the first monologue to be broadcast of the first series of Talking Heads in 1987, and the only one to feature Alan Bennett as an actor.

Graham, a middle-aged bachelor, emotionally unintelligent and chronically dependent on his mother, finds life difficult enough at the best of times. So, when Mother meets an old flame and seems set to marry him, Graham’s old insecurities begin to rear their ugly heads. Fate, eventually, rescues Graham and he resumes his normal life of banal muddle under his mother’s tyranny.

Bed Among the Lentils, 1992 (US/UK)

Susan is a vicar’s wife suffocated by the expectations forced on her by her position and her husband’s over-zealous parishioners. She is also an alcoholic who travels into Leeds to go to the off-licence (liquor store) because of her debts with the local shopkeeper. In frustration, she embarks on an affair with the off-licence owner, Ramesh, discovering something about both herself and God in the process.

In the play’s original television debut, the role of Susan was played by Dame Maggie Smith, who would also go on to play the titular character in Bennett’s The Lady in the Van.

Her Big Chance, 1992 (UK)

Meet Lesley, an actress who has just completed a video in which she plays Travis, a career girl who enjoys life, spends a remarkable amount of time topless and shoots a man with a harpoon gun. In a moment of vulnerability, she tells all, blind to the sinister undertones of her story as well as to her own naivete and gullibility.

In the most recent television production of the Talking Heads BBC series filmed in 2020, the role of Lesley is played by Jodie Cromer.

The Lady in the Van, 1999 (US/UK)

Drawing from his memoirs, Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van is an account of the genteel vagrant, Miss Shepard, who parked her van in his driveway in London for fifteen years. Though Miss Shepard initially comes across as crabby yet eccentric, Bennett befriends her over the years, learning of her real identity and the events which brought her to his driveway in the 70s.

One of Bennett’s more well-known works, The Lady in the Van has remained a firm favourite within the hearts of many. Actor Maggie Smith played Miss Shepard in the original stage production in 1999, for which she won a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards. Smith later reprised the role for both the radio play and film adaptation.

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If you’d like to discover more of Alan Bennett’s work, visit the Concord Theatricals website.

In the US/North America, click here. In the UK/Europe, click here.