Allelujah! written by Alan Bennett, directed by Nicholas Hytner at Bridge Theatre London.
Much as I loved many of the Nicholas Hytner era productions at the National Theatre, not least his collaborations with Alan Bennett like The History Boys and The Madness of George III, I did find myself thinking that for all the criticism of his successor, Rufus Norris is at least trying to jolt us out of our comfort zone.
In Allelujah!, one National Treasure writes about another National Treasure- the NHS. What’s the diagnosis?
It’s like Alan Bennett is giving us a bed bath. He covers all the familiar places but there are no surprises. He does have some strong words to say about the care of the elderly and the creeping privatisation of the NHS but his play feels so old fashioned.
It’s set in a geriatric ward of a small general hospital threatened with closure. And straightway there’s a problem. if the play was a patient, the doctor would say it’s confused about where it is. This is more like a care home than a geriatric ward (which by the way are called Care Of The Elderly wards these days). I didn’t believe for a moment there would be time for a nurse to organise a choir among the patients. This play is living in a world of its own, a world we might call Alan Bennett Land.
Like the elderly patients in the play, Allelujah! is confused, unfocused and old fashioned
The next symptom. Our patient can’t seem to concentrate on any one character. There are 25 and most are little more than clichés or ciphers. I just didn’t believe the kind, touchy-feely immigrant doctor (Sacha Dhawan) who ‘loves old people’, nor the neoliberal privatising consultant (Samuel Barnett) nor the yobbish work experience lad (David Moorst). The only one we get to know slightly better is the stiff ward sister, played by the excellent Deborah Findlay, who has a radical solution to the twin problems of incontinence and empty bed targets.
Repetition is another worrying symptom. The familiar Bennett humour is there but really it’s too familiar. There are some amusing lines but many more fall flat- I’ve gone beyond thinking the names of Yorkshire towns are funny in their own right, like the bathetic threat of Tadcaster.
Mood swings are another worrying sign of a patient who is no longer in control. There’s also an uncharacteristic burst of anger from the patient when the immigrant doctor berates us the audience for the way we have become as a country.
The best bits were when we went into the minds of the elderly patients and saw them as a chorus line performing singing and dancing of old songs. And that apparently was director Nicholas Hytner’s idea, not Alan Bennett’s.
I’m afraid this play felt very dated or, as the doctor in the play might say, the patient is suffering from old age.
So, I regret, it’s a Do Not Resuscitate from me.
Allelujah! by Alan Bennett is performing at Bridge Theatre London until 29 September 2018
Watch Paul Seven Lewis’ review on One Minute Theatre Reviews-