AN IMAGINED meeting between English composer Benjamin Britten and poet WH Auden form the basis of the Old Mill Theatre’s latest play.
Written by Alan Bennett, one of the UK’s most prolific living playwrights, The Habit of Art sees the two men meet for the first time in 25 years with Britten seeking advice from Auden – his former collaborator and friend – about his new opera Death in Venice.
During the 1973 meeting, they are observed and interrupted by, among others, their future biographer and a young man from the local bus station.
The play-within-a-play looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men and the ethics of biography, reflecting on growing old, creativity and inspiration and persisting when all passion is spent – the habit of art.
Director Anthony Howes described The Habit of Art as one of the finest comedy-dramas of the past decade.
“It takes two great men of the arts and, through much laughter and a few tears, shows them to be fallible human beings with a passion for the arts,” he said.
“The play articulates that passion for the ordinary theatre-goer, enabling them to feel and understand.
“The main challenge is probably the same for all directors of any production – to work towards assisting the cast to arrive at a common vision of the author’s creation.”
Perth-born Anthony Howes has directed several Alan Bennett plays in Australia, including a Sydney tour of Forty Years On, The Madness of George III and the critically-acclaimed The History Boys at the Playhouse Theatre, featuring Edgar Metcalfe and Jenny McNae.
He holds the Pen International Salute for direction, Advance Australia Award for the Arts, Centenary Medal for Theatre and Freedom of the City of London (for youth and the arts in Britain and Australia).
For many years, Howes directed for the ABC in radio and television and also founded the Midnite Youth Theatre Company, where he was artistic director for 25 years.
His productions have been seen in Australia, the UK (at the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells Theatre and in the provinces), Canada, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam and Thailand.
“The Habit of Art appealed because Alan Bennett is one of the finest writers of human comedy of the age,” Howes said.
“To direct the West Australian premiere of the work is exciting.”
The Habit of Art plays at 8pm April 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 29 ane 30 with a 2pm matinee April 17. Tickets are $25, $20 concession – book at http://oldmilltheatre.com.au/tickets or on 9367 8719. Please note: the play features adult language and themes.
The heritage-listed Old Mill Theatre is on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth (opposite the Windsor Hotel and Australia Post).
CAPTIONS (note to subs: "Freind" *is* spelt correctly)
habit1: WH Auden (Dene Irvin, left), Benjamin Britten (Justin Freind) and Donald (Barry Park) – playing comic female impersonator Douglas Byng – in The Habit of Art.
habit2: The Habit of Art features Dene Irvin, left, as poet WH Auden, Barry Park as biographer Humphrey Carpenter and Justin Freind as English composer Benjamin Britten.
habit3: Paul Bray, left, and Sally Barendse play assistant stage manager George and stage manager Kay in The Habit of Art, which features a play-within-a-play.
habit4: Brandon Orgill, left, Surjo Mazhar Sahid and Matthew Han all play the boy soprano Charlie, who auditions for Benjamin Britten (Justin Freind) in The Habit of Art.
Old Mill Theatre
South Perth's Old Mill Theatre is fortunate to be operating out of one of the most historic buildings in South Perth. It was opened in 1899 as a Mechanics' Institute Hall. The South Perth Council purchased the building in 1913 and renamed it the Mends Street Hall. The council still owns the building, and supports our use of it.
The building first became a home of theatre in 1948, when the South Perth Dramatic Society moved in. The name Old Mill Theatre was first used in 1958, and the company was incorporated in 1959. In 2009, the theatre celebrated its 60th anniversary.
A number of significant changes to the building have occurred over the past few years, with major extensions completed in 2002. An understage tunnel, which links two backstage dressing rooms and enables easier access from one side of the stage to the other, was completed in 2008. Bathroom facilities have also been installed backstage as part of this project, which was wholly self-funded.
The Old Mill Theatre is fortunate to have strong support from its local council, the City of South Perth. The city undertook major renovations to the exterior of the building in 2008 and the theatre is looking better now than ever before.
P: 0447 386 000