Review: Allelujah!

3 star rating
Alan Bennett's play with music takes aim at the depersonalisation of the NHS, but his trademark style doesn't reach the heights of previous work, even if it is enjoyably entertaining.
Allelujah! at The Bridge Theatre

Image: The Bridge Theatre



Closes here: Saturday 29 September 2018

Author:
Alan Bennett

Composer:
George Fenton

Director:
Nicholas Hytner

Cast:

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


Synopsis


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). 


Background


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.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 19 July 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

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.


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