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This Is London Sept 14th

16 Samuel Barnett

16 Samuel Barnett (Colin). Members of the cast of Allelujah!. Photos: Manuel Harlan. ALLELUJAH! The Bridge Theatre ‘Nobody likes old people. Not even old people like old people,’ opines a man in a pinstripe suit. He turns out to be the Chairman of an NHS Trust fighting the closure of a local hospital, but you can hear Alan Bennett’s voice in this observation – not bitter, but twinkly eyed. It is possibly the truest statement in the 85 year old playwright’s latest drama, ‘Allelujah’, which is set in a geriatric ward and would almost certainly not be a top pick of most theatre goers, were it not from the pen of a man widely esteemed as a national treasure. The drama is both political and personal, if low key. Colin (Samuel Barnett) a lycra-clad racing cyclist on an athletic jaunt from London to visit his old Dad, has grown up to be a gay management consultant with no sympathy for the inefficient ‘cosiness’ of local hospitals. Indeed his advice to the Minister responsible has been to close it down. His Dad is an ex-coal miner who has never forgiven Colin for his sexual orientation, but vacillates between hostility and well-hidden paternal pride. Their relationship could be interesting, but it is frozen in a snapshot here. You could say old people’s personalities rarely develop – unless you count the mellowing due to memory loss. Other characters are also more two dimensions than three. There’s a line-up of old dears, of course, with their past lives sketched in like a faded watercolour. And there’s the staff – a jolly nurse who runs the geriatric choral society for example, resulting in unlikely bursts of song and dance on the ward, and a stentorian Sister who keeps a careful list of which patients succumb to incontinence (as you might suspect, this turns out badly in the end.) The most engaging persona on stage is the warm, intelligent and caring Dr Valentine, (Sacha Dhawan) an Indian medic who loves old people (the only one!), has anglicised his name in order to fit in locally and lives in terror of being repatriated since his visa ran out. We would empathise more with his trials if they were really believable, however. No matter how subtly obnoxious immigration officials may be, I doubt they would get away with requiring interviewees to sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ as a test of patriotism. On the other hand, the saving grace of the play is its musical interludes and those are far from realistic. Both Dhawan and Barnett get to sing solos and their voices are striking – Colin’s reluctant Sacha Dhawan (Dr Valentine) and Simon Williams (Ambrose). version of ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ brings a lump to the throat. In the big numbers, dementia and disability, loneliness and death are all pushed joyfully aside as the octogenarians rise from their wheel chairs to belt out ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’, ‘On the Sunny side of the Street’ and similar. They are reliving their youth and we live it with them – allelujah! Sue Webster t h i s i s l o n d o n m a g a z i n e • t h i s i s l o n d o n o n l i n e

LONDON
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LONDON,UK 14th JULY 1982 ALBÚM-THE WALL 1979
A&E Newsletter 14th edition
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