Untold Stories, ImpAct on tour

stewart impactALAN Bennett, now recognised as a National Treasure, regards himself as an unlikely candidate for the position.

A shy but brilliant boy in his Leeds school, he went on to Oxford, graduating and teaching ancient history, before meeting up with Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and introducing a new brand of satire to the UK and the US.

His parents, unassuming and unsophisticated, wondered that their son was rubbing shoulders with film stars.

Some years ago, when his plays were international smash hits, Bennett was diagnosed with cancer, and told he had only a 50 per cent chance of recovery, assumed he was dying and set about writing a memoir.

The work, Untold Stories – Two Recollections, was published and performed in 2012.

Now ImpAct Theatre, under the direction of Patricia Richardson, has taken on the challenge of touring these two playlets, one of them requiring an on-stage string quartet. The first night was on Sunday, in the acoustically difficult open spaces of The Exchange at Sturminster Newton.

The excellent Alani String Quartet, playing the music George Fenton wrote for the first play, Hymn, had undeniable problems as the music sometimes drowned out Stewart Barlow’s extraordinary performance as Bennett. This is the story of the impact of music in the life of the young man desperate to win his father’s approval.

No matter how he tried, nor how often he attended classical performances at Leeds Town Hall, his father, a butcher and violinist, found him wanting.

The second play, Cocktail Sticks, is one of Alan Bennett’s evocative and keenly-observed snapshots of a life that already seems to have vanished into history.

His mother’s reading of magazines, and aspirations for social advancement introduced the Avocado Pear in place of Shiphams Bloater Paste, and cocktails in place of the sherry they never liked.

It’s gentle and poignant, full of a sense of being by-passed by life.

It’s hard to imagine anyone encapsulating the essence of Bennett better than Stewart Barlow, in this gargantuan role made the more special by its total lack of high drama.

Stephanie Fereday and Lee Tilson are perfectly puzzled as Mam and Dad, with Louise Thomas adding a bit of humour as Russell Harty’s mother, and Chaz Davenport, (such a memorable Falstaff with BOAT) as all the rest of the men.

This is ImpAct at its best, and with the musical imbalance sorted, well worth a journey.

See it at  Wimborne Tivoli on Tuesday 22nd September, Verwood Hub on Wednesday 23rd, the Mowlem in Swanage on Friday 25th or at its final performance at the Regent Centre in Christ­church on Monday 28th Sep­tem­ber. All performances start at 7.30pm.


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