At the centre of playwright Alan Bennett’s latest play The Habit of Art is an imagined meeting between two of Britain’s most revered artists, the poet W.H. Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten, which itself is depicted in a ‘rehearsal’ of the play at the National Theatre. As multilayered as Bennett’s play, this doc operates on a number of levels. Bennett and director Nicholas Hytner take us through the making of The Habit of Art, from Bennett’s first musings on it, through the many scripts during which the final play took shape. At the same time director Adam Low uses a range of archive and interviews to explore in more depth Auden and Britten’s complicated personalities and sexuality. At one time close friends and collaborators (most notably for the doc classic Night Train), their friendship imploded during WWII, never to be resumed. An accomplished study of friendship, insecurity and artistic creation.
So useful and informative is Adam Low’s documentary both about The Habit of Art and the making of it that I’d be happy if the audience saw it as a preview. Except that they might think the play was superfluous. But I’m happy it’s been shown in Sheffield, where The History Boys was set; I hope the audience will regard this as a reward, not a punishment.
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