ALAN Bennett’s satirical play People opened at the National Theatre in 2012 and made a short UK tour the following year, to great critical and audience acclaim. It has not been seen since.
Winston Leese, founder producer of the Dorset-based Churchill Productions, tried in vain to get performing rights and undaunted, found a way to contact the playwright. Bennett gave his blessing, and this brilliantly funny play arrived in Wimborne for four performances.
Set in the Yorkshire stately home of the Stacpoole dynasty, siblings Dorothy and June are arguing about the future of the building, with its crumbling plaster and leaky roof, next to an almost-exhausted coalfield. Lady Dorothy, a former model from the swinging 60s, has very different ideas from her sister June, an archdeacon who has recently discovered the joys of sapphic partnership after a fling with the (male) bishop.
While June favours a hand-over to the National Trust, Dorothy wants to keep “the people” out of the family pile.
Bennett uses People to poke wickedly accurate fun at the relentless trendiness of the 21st century National Trust, relying on an army of traditional volunteers to run their buildings as they transform them into “relevant” and politically correct day-out destinations.
He also introduces a suggestion for diversification for land-rich and cash-poor owners … renting out for the making of pornographic films.
When one of Dotty’s former beaux turns up scouting for a location, she invites him in, even taking part in the low-budget offering herself.
Pete Talman again directs with his usual keen eye for detail, and the 20-strong cast relishes not only Bennett’s insightful and hilarious words but the fun of the story. The Saturday matinee audience seemed a little slow to see many of the jokes, but this is Alan Bennett in wordy mode, and you need to keep up!
Jan Wyld and Sammy Upton play the warring sisters, one all faded elegance and the other self-righteous smugness. And all the time they are shadowed by “companion” Iris, subtly performed by Barbara Arnold.
In this larger-than-usual Churchill cast, also outstanding are Ian Sherwood as the brash auctioneer with a secret agenda, Justin Ellery as the porn producer, and Simon Janion, gleefully capturing the new modern approach of National Trust man Ralph Lumsden.
Another excellent Churchill production, and thank goodness Winston Leese persevered in his quest.