Image: The Bridge Theatre
COLIN - Samuel Barnett
ALEX - Sam Bond
MOLLY - Jacqueline Chan
MRS MAUDSLEY - Jacqueline Clarke
VALENTINE - Sacha Dhawan
MRS EARNSHAW - Rosie Ede
MAVIS - Patricia England
GILCHRIST - Deborah Findlay
SALTER - Peter Forbes
MARY - Julia Foster
RAMESH - Manish Gandhi
ARTHUR - Colin Haigh
GERALD - Richie Hart
CLIFF - Nadine Higgin
PINKNEY - Nicola Hughes
RENEE - Anna Lindup
NEVILLE - Louis Mahoney
ANDY - David Moorst
JOE - Jeff Rawle
CORA - Cleo Sylvestre
LUCILLE - Gwen Taylor
HAZEL - Sue Wallace
AMBROSE - Simon Williams
MR EARNSHAW - Duncan Wisbey
FLETCHER - Gary Wood
The Beth, an old fashioned cradle-to-grave hospital serving a town on the edge of the Pennines, is threatened with closure as part of an NHS efficiency drive.
Meanwhile, a documentary crew eager to capture its fight for survival follows the daily struggle to find beds on the Dusty Springfield Geriatric Ward, and the triumphs of the old people's choir (newest member: the Pudsey Nightingale).
Allelujah! will be the tenth collaboration between Bennett and Hytner.
They first worked together on Bennett's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows for the National Theatre in 1990.
Then followed The Madness of King George III, The Lady in the Van and The History Boys, all of which were also seen on film, The Habit of Art, People and the double bill Untold Stories.
National treasure, Alan Bennett, shows he can still effortlessly attract the masses if the packed house at The Bridge Theatre, where the playwright's latest offering is now settling into its run, is anything to go by.
I suspect that, whatever the critics say about Allelujah!, the rest of the run will be pretty-much the same - packed houses and, probably, satisfied audiences.
Having waited 6 long years for a new stage venture from Mr Bennett, it's even more likely that The Bridge will do good business with this play.
But though Allelujah! has plenty of the trademark style we associate with Alan Bennett's work, it's a somewhat odd concoction that, overall, doesn't offer the satirical sharpness one might have expected, especially given the subject matter - the plight of our beloved NHS.
Moreover, though the play will resonate with many people watching the NHS struggling to cope with an ageing population, huge demand from an ever-increasing, ever-demanding user-base and technological developments that may see people of the future surviving well beyond their hundredth birthday, the central issues seem to get muddied in the format and there may just be too many of them.
Allelujah! turns out to be a play with music - songs and dance routines pepper a sketchy and fragmented story.
Bureaucrats chasing targets, grasping relatives, a hard-working immigrant doctor likely to be dispatched back to his native country, uncaring attitudes and a ward sister bent on her own method of improving patient throughput, all figure in a complex mash-up of matters.
The play is held together by setting it in a small and ageing hospital - nicknamed The Beth - which provides general acute medical care for all its local population.
Closure of the institution is on the cards, with facilities likely to be transferred to a much bigger and, Mr Bennett suggests, less caring and more remote new hospital.
The focus falls on the geriatric department of The Beth, where we find a disparate group of older people who are suffering from a range of largely age-related medical conditions, but who still have a yearning to sing!
The play is liberally littered with the names of Yorkshire towns - with even my native Huddersfield elbowing its way into the dialogue - as though included for posterity in case they go the same way as The Beth and get closed down.
And we hear some of Mr Bennett's favourite expressions - for example when one of the older patients describes tangerine as a "common" (as in low class) colour for a cardigan.
Bob Crowley's hospital design cleverly utilises numerous sliding walls to diminish The Bridge's huge stage to provide more intimate spaces as required, though there are still times when it seems a tad too big for this particular purpose.
And there's a considerable smattering of underlying sentimentality, which might just be unavoidable given the nature of the play and the characters it presents us with - especially the endearing chorus of singing and dancing senior citizens.
However, good company singing and able performances make for an entertainingly enjoyable show, with moments of typical and brilliant Bennett humour.
It's only fitting, I suppose, that one national treasure should analyse another even though Mr Bennett's examination of our ageing NHS is not always as bitingly pointed or cohesive as it might be.
Nevertheless, he rightly wonders if medical progress and quality caring can co-exist, especially when economy of delivery is the overriding consideration.
And he extrapolates that notion to our society as a whole, leaving us to question the bigger issue of just where, as a community, we are really heading.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Bridge Theatre
Our show listing for Allelujah!
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