Review: Bennett’s masterstroke missing

People, Birmingham Repertory Theatre. On until September 21. Box office: 0121 236 4455.
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As one of Alan Bennett’s biggest fans I guess I had to be disappointed some time.

I wasn’t entirely sure about his recent book, Smut, containing two short stories. But his new play People really did underwhelm me.

It’s a bit of a ‘rage against the dying of the light’ via a sideswipe at the National Trust - which apparently vies with the Church of England these days on membership numbers.

Sian Phillips plays Dorothy Stacpoole, a elderly former fashion model who dreams of an en-suite bathroom while resolutely hanging on to the stately home pile that her archdeacon sister June (Selina Cadell) is determined to give away.

With decay all around, Dorothy really doesn’t want the great unwashed traipsing in and out of her property - but she learns that nothing is sacred. Exclusivity, like everything else, has a price.

So it is that a film crew come to make a porn movie in her four poster bed. But they fix the heating so that’s all right in Dorothy’s eyes.

Not to mention the confused eyes of her doddering companion Iris, played with relish by Bridget Forsyth. Remember her from The Likely Lads?

With great actors, all the ingredients are there for another great Bennett triumph.

But with so few masterstroke one-liners, it just doesn’t work.

Could it be that nobody dared tell the great man, himself a national treasure, that he needed to sit down and have another go at this one?

Barbara Goulden