THEATRE REVIEW: Alleujah! – Bridge Theatre  

Alan Bennett is probably the country’s most reliable theatre filler and his new play is funny, affectionate, sharp and (mildly) taboo-breaking as you’d expect from our 84-year-old nat… Well, I won’t say it because he hates the soubriquet, but you know what I mean.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital destined for probable closure. Patients in the geriatric ward – more, here of an old people’s home of sorts – sing in a choir. People, with various agendas, visit, the trust manager smarms and the ward sister has her own ideas about her patients’ future. And there’s a lot of stuff about bodily functions, partly because this is Alan Bennett and partly because it’s an environment in which incontinence (the metaphorical sort too) is rife.

It’s an enjoyable evening in the theatre. Nicholas Hytner is very experienced in making Bennett material work on stage. And there are some fine performances especially from Samuel Barnett as the young gay management consultant (working for the Health Minister) visiting his tiresome homophobic father and from Sacha Dhwan as the caring, tolerant doctor. Deborah Findlay is terrific as the dour, practical ward sister with a back story and, it transpires also a front one. The singing is a nice touch too and designer Bob Crowley’s sliding hospital walls are neat and effective.

But this certainly isn’t Bennett at his best. It’s not History Boys or even Forty Years On. Here he’s trying to drive home one main message and several subsidiary ones and the moralising is laboured. We are relentlessly invited to reflect on the apparent decline of the caring NHS and sympathise with the people who still struggle to do their jobs with humanity. At the same time there’s an inevitable anti-government theme. Then, unexpectedly, we’re suddenly in the midst of a rueful immigration and deportation story. And there’s a topical euthanasia argument in the mix too. Allelujah! is fun at times but it’s flawed. Not that that will impede its success. It’s Alan Bennett after all.

Review by Susan Elkin