Tuesday, 10 January 2017

'Keeping On...

Cover from 'Keeping on Keeping On'
Keeping On' is the title of Alan Bennett's latest tome about life, theatre, diaries and film.  Read on for my thoughts on this book...

Last month I had the wonderful pleasure of hearing Alan Bennett read from his new book, speak about his writing and answer questions from an auditorium full of people.  Naturally, I bought the book – an early Christmas present to myself - and having that rather precious gem in my sticky little mitts, I could not stop myself from delving straight in.
It’s a very substantial book containing extracts from his diaries, pieces about his work in film and theatre, some musings, details from his day to day life and it is peppered with his incredible Yorkshire wit.  I was captivated – as I always am with his work – from the very first page.
Sitting in the playhouse in Leeds – where else would you expect to have an audience with Bennett, I ask myself – I listened intently as he read some pieces about trains and I was immediately back on that train from Kings Cross to Yorkshire with Mr Bennett in the seat immediately behind me. At the time, I was directing a production of his 1971-set play ‘Getting On’, which he describes himself as ‘not a good play (and far too wordy)’. Yep, agree with you on that point as I seem to recollect making some cuts myself.  However, the wordiness also provided me with the inspiration for my set.  The action takes place in the home of the central character, George, a ‘verbose Labour MP’ who hankers after ‘the style of the old middle-classes.’  As such George works in a place of words.  The play is about words and incorporates plays on words.  I created for my characters a house that bled words.  As Bennett says – this play is about class and style, but the story so wittily told!
In ‘Keeping On Keeping On’ Bennett also shares snippets from his time on set during the filming of ‘The History Boys’.  Understanding how he makes changes to his scripts and how he, the director and the other actors all work together is an absolute revelation to someone like me who has worked in theatre from being a child.  Yet again, this story is told with his usual turn of phrase and his impeccable sense of timing to juxtaposition apparently random thoughts with great aplomb and comedy.
A wordy poster for a wordy play!
As a surprise at the end of the book are two scripts ‘Denmark Hill’ and ‘The Hand of God.’  I didn’t recognise the titles so I was immediately intrigued when I found them.  According to Bennett both of these scripts are ‘casualties’ of his ‘own way of working’ and they both ended up being ‘put into a drawer’ whilst he ‘got on with something else’.  So there you have it, even one of our greatest living writers hides stuff in drawers.  As a bit of a scribbler myself, I happen to find that revelation particularly encouraging!
If you want a brilliantly observed and witty read, then you’ll enjoy this fabulous book, and, like 'Untold Stories', 'Writing Home' and 'The Uncommon Reader', I know that it won't sit on my bookshelf for long before I pick it up again and start re-reading it.
Oh, and if I had had the courage to turn round and talk to you on that train journey, Mr Bennett, I can honestly say that I would never have complimented you on your paintings!


  1. Most enjoyable post - one of my favourite authors - and readers of his own work, too! Love his recording of "The Lady in the Van"!

  2. Thank you Ann and thanks for visiting the blog. I guess you've worked out he's one of my favourite authors too!