Meeting of minds in WA premiere by acclaimed UK playwright

WH Auden (Dene Irvin, left), Benjamin Britten (Justin Freind) and Donald (Barry Park) – impersonating English pantomime dame Douglas Byng – in The Habit of Art.

WH Auden (Dene Irvin, left), Benjamin Britten (Justin Freind) and Donald (Barry Park) – playing comic female impersonator Douglas Byng – in The Habit of Art.

AN IMAGINED meeting between English composer Benjamin Britten and poet WH Auden form the basis of the Old Mill Theatre’s latest play.

Written by Alan Bennett, one of the UK’s most prolific living playwrights, The Habit of Art sees the two men meet for the first time in 25 years with Britten seeking advice from Auden – his former collaborator and friend – about his new opera Death in Venice.

During the 1973 meeting, they are observed and interrupted by, among others, their future biographer and a young man from the local bus station.

The play-within-a-play looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men and the ethics of biography, reflecting on growing old, creativity and inspiration and persisting when all passion is spent – the habit of art.

The Habit of Art features Dene Irvin, left, as poet WH Auden, Barry Park as biographer Humphrey Carpenter and Justin Freind as English composer Benjamin Britten.

The Habit of Art features Dene Irvin, left, as poet WH Auden, Barry Park as biographer Humphrey Carpenter and Justin Freind as English composer Benjamin Britten.

Director Anthony Howes described The Habit of Art as one of the finest comedy-dramas of the past decade.

“It takes two great men of the arts and, through much laughter and a few tears, shows them to be fallible human beings with a passion for the arts,” he said.

“The play articulates that passion for the ordinary theatre-goer, enabling them to feel and understand.

“The main challenge is probably the same for all directors of any production – to work towards assisting the cast to arrive at a common vision of the author’s creation.”

Perth-born Anthony Howes has directed several Alan Bennett plays in Australia, including a Sydney tour of Forty Years On, The Madness of George III and the critically-acclaimed The History Boys at the Playhouse Theatre, featuring Edgar Metcalfe and Jenny McNae.

He holds the Pen International Salute for direction, Advance Australia Award for the Arts, Centenary Medal for Theatre and Freedom of the City of London (for youth and the arts in Britain and Australia).

Paul Bray, left, and Sally Barendse play assistant stage manager George and stage manager Kay in The Habit of Art, which features a play-within-a-play.

Paul Bray, left, and Sally Barendse play assistant stage manager George and stage manager Kay in The Habit of Art, which features a play-within-a-play.

For many years, Howes directed for the ABC in radio and television and also founded the Midnite Youth Theatre Company, where he was artistic director for 25 years.

His productions have been seen in Australia, the UK (at the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells Theatre and in the provinces), Canada, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam and Thailand.

The Habit of Art appealed because Alan Bennett is one of the finest writers of human comedy of the age,” Howes said. “To direct the West Australian premiere of the work is exciting.”

The Habit of Art plays at 8pm April 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 and 23 with a 2pm matinee April 17. Tickets are $25, $20 concession – book ONLINE HERE or on 9367 8719 or oldmilltheatre@iinet.net.au. Please note: the play features adult language and themes.

The heritage-listed Old Mill Theatre is on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth (opposite the Windsor Hotel and Australia Post).

 

 

Weekend Notes

Weekend Notes has run a story on The Habit of Art, which can be viewed at http://www.weekendnotes.com/the-habit-of-art-old-mill-theatre/