Alan Bennett’s latest play, Allelujah!, is proof that comedy is one of the most effective forms of political commentary.
It also shows you can still enjoy a well-written and acted play even if you’re unaware of all the political issues raised.
Thanks to National Theatre Live’s screening of a performance of the play, Australian audiences can now enjoy 84-year-old Bennett’s work. The performance was filmed during the play’s very successful run at London’s Bridge Theatre last year.
Allelujah! is the story of the Bethlehem (the Beth), an English hospital servicing a town in Yorkshire. It is threatened with closure as part of a National Health Service (NHS) efficiency drive.
The Beth is an old fashioned hospital and as such doesn’t have any specialist areas. Instead it provides `cradle to grave’ care. Allelujah! spotlights the plight of the `grave’ patients – that is those in the geriatric ward.
The hospital’s chairman Salter (Peter Forbes) is determined to keep the hospital open and as part of his campaign has invited a film crew to spotlight members of the geriatric ward who have formed a choir.
He has also run a very effective public relations campaign to show the importance of the hospital to the community. While he’s confident he has the Health Minister on side, he comes across one of the strongest opponents to the hospital staying open – health ministry management consultant, Colin (Samuel Barnett). As it turns out Colin’s father, Joe (Jeff Rawle) is a patient in the geriatric ward.
One of Salter’s arguments for keeping the hospital open that is it’s efficiently run and even makes a profit. Colin argues that if the hospital is profitable it should be in the private sector.
It’s clear throughout the play that Bennett believes there are many problems with the NHS. The playwright also targets Britain’s immigration policies through a doctor on the ward.
Dr Valentine (Sacha Dhawan) seems the only doctor really interested in his patients but, given the Indian national has overstayed his student visa, his future in the UK is grim.
Society’s attitude towards the elderly is another issue Bennett raises. Typical is the comment from Salter: “People don’t like old people. Old people don’t like old people”.
Then there’s the issue of accommodation for the elderly. While a number of patients could be discharged there’s nowhere for them to go. As a result they stay in the ward, much to the chagrin of head nurse, Sister Gilchrist (Deborah Findlay), who has her own solution to deal with those who cause problems.
While the storyline may sound a little depressing, the numerous funny lines ensure there are plenty of laughs. And the acting is very good.
Regular viewers of English stage and screen will recognise many familiar faces. Despite the age of some, they’ve lost none of their comic timing or their ability to sing and dance enthusiastically.
Music is another feature of Allelujah! A number of old favourites are bought to life by the cast including You’re Adorable, Get Happy, Love And Marriage, Good Golly Miss Molly, On The Sunny Side Of The Street and You Made Me Love You.
It’s the chance to see great actors present Bennett’s sharp and funny dialogue under the direction of award-winning director, Nicholas Hytner, which ensures Allelujah! is a most entertaining and thought-provoking production.
Allelujah! is screening at selected Australian cinemas from Saturday March 30. For further details visit the Sharmill Films website. For more information on the play visit the National Theatre Live website.
*Photo credit: Manual Harlan
Jenny Burns attended a preview screening of Allelujah! as a guest of Sharmill Films
- national theatre live, plays, review
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