Alan Bennett: The Second Subsidy

“The challenge for the NT in future will be to replace what has effectively been a boost in subsidy provided during the years of The History Boys”

The National Theatre announced it’s Autumn season today, but what they really announced was details of the new Alan Bennett play, The Habit of Art. It’s difficult to make clear quite how important and eagerly anticipated this new production is: Bennett’s previous play, The History Boys ran for five years in London, around the country, around the world and on Broadway, made five million pounds for the NT and made stars of it’s young cast: it’s now difficult to turn on the TV or go to the theatre without stumbling across a History Boy alumnus like Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia, Phedre), James Corden (Gavin and Stacey), Matt Smith (the new Dr Who) or Samuel Barnett (Desperate Romantics) all of who made their name in this play.

The Habit of Art is no mere sequel to a successful blockbuster (the story line, two poets meeting in old age, could scarcely be more different) but Nicholas Hytner is at the helm once again and Frances de la Tour returns. If this new show is half as good as its predecessor then the NT will have a major, major, major success on their hands. The pressure must be immense.

Needless to say, when booking opens there will be Night Mail crossing the border bringing the cheque and the ticket order like never before. I know this is a familiar refrain on here, but this time I’m really not kidding: if you want to see this, then you definitely need to book early.

So, unless you fancy spending the next six months listening to dinner party conversation about a play you haven’t seen, then get yourself to the NT website on 2nd September – or the day before if you sign up for their free email list.

Another quite exciting production at the big grey building this autumn is Pains of Youth, an intense psychosexual drama about six medical students who really, really need to find some new flatmates. Needless to say, they ignore my advice; but I suppose that’s where great drama begins.

Also worth a punt is Mixed Up North at Wilton’s Music Hall. It all sounds a little bit on the edgy teen angst side, but it is directed by Max Stafford-Clark, who’s not exactly famous for turning out duffers. Again, book and book soon. All the fun begins on 2 September.