The first new play in six years by Alan Bennett (1954, Modern History and Honorary Fellow of Exeter College), has opened to critical acclaim at the Bridge Theatre in London. Allelujah! is part musical comedy, part polemic about the state of England.
The play is set on the geriatric wards of a small hospital in Yorkshire that is threatened with closure as part of an NHS efficiency drive. The local community and hospital management rally to keep the hospital open; elderly patients form a choir; and Alan Bennett’s play traces the lives of the patients in the hospital’s wards, many of whom are ‘bedblockers’, destined to be long term residents of the ward, creating a play that is ‘richly discursive’ (The Guardian).
In an echo of Alan Bennett’s examination of the education system in The History Boys, Allelujah! sees Bennett cast a critical eye over how society values success and care. To shine a spotlight on this issue, an unlikely coincidence is set up: the management consultant seeking to close the hospital in pursuit of cost savings is also the son of one of its patients.
Mr Bennett’s exposition of the issues with the health system, as he sees them, is interspersed with lighter elements: The Telegraph praised the play’s ‘high doses of whimsicality and topicality,’ such as the hospital management’s ploy to stave off closure with publicity gimmicks such as renaming wards after pop stars. The Independent described the song-and-dance routines performed by the hospital’s elderly patients as ‘one of the chief glories of the evening … that allow this doddery gaggle to evoke remembered happiness and the inner spirit that remains unquelled by infirmity.’
Allelujah! is another collaboration between Alan Bennett as writer and Nicholas Hytner as producer. It runs at the Bridge Theatre, London until 29 September. The production will be filmed and released to cinemas on 1 November. Tickets can be purchased on the Bridge Theatre website.