Imagine Little Britain PLC as a giant porn film set, fetishising old world charm to make a quick buck. This is kind of what Alan Bennett does with his 2012 play, which he sets inside a crumbling stately home in Yorkshire. Here, fading belle Dorothy and her doting companion Iris live gamely in the past. While arch-deacon June is out tending her flock, Dorothy is attempting to flog off her heritage to the highest bidder.
On the one hand is the National Trust, a seemingly safe pair of hands overseeing the theme parking of the nation. On the other is the brasher face of The Concerned, a dubious think-tank who sound like Brexiteers in waiting. When an unexpected third way appears in the form of Dorothy's old flame and skin flick auteur Theodore, the women are awakened to a life of erotic promise by proxy.
There's something quaintly Chekhovian about the first half of Bennett's play, brought jauntily to life by director Patrick Sandford. There are shades of Ab Fab too in Valerie Cutko's portrayal of Dorothy's flamboyant ex-deb clinging to a time when life swung in the play's uneven mix of ennui and sit-com.
As the film crew lift Irene Allan's chair-bound and increasingly excited Iris out of shot to the other side of the room, it's no different than the National Trust's plan to transplant the house to somewhere leafier in Dorset. In this respect, the play's manifesto on how preservation can lead to gentrification is as polemical as Bennet gets. When Dorothy takes the remote control to the newly refurbished house, it's as if she's switching off the lights of an entire culture.
The Herald, June 27th 2017