THEATRE REVIEW: Allelujah! starring Sacha Dhawan & Samuel Barnett at the Bridge Theatre

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

WHERE?: Bridge Theatre

WHEN?: 14/11, press night 18/7, runs to 29/11/18

‘I tend to write a play before I do the research for it,’ confesses Alan Bennett in the programme notes for his 1st play in 5 years and it really shows here.
* Read on for reasons including how Alan Bennett’s new play couldn’t be more topical

Explaining his working relationship with director Nicholas Hytner and their 10th collaboration here, he says: ‘Plays as I 1st submit them are generally quite loose-fitting garments which can then be tailored to his (and sometimes the casts’) strengths and requirements.’

Which is not to say that Allelujah! is not fully deserving of its 4 stars and, indeed, it fully merits a place on our best new play of the year so far list.

Set in Yorkshire in the present-day it is about a geriatric ward in a cradle-to-grave hospital that is under threat of closure.

Samuel Barnett plays Colin, a management consultant who advises the health minister who is to decide the hospital’s fate, as well as being from the town where the facility is at the same time as it is looking after his own ill father.

The ward he is on is run by the revered Sister Gilchrist (Deborah Findlay giving a masterclass of passing as salt-of-the-earth) who runs a spotless hospital and keeps a list of those patients who are incontinent.

Doctor Valentine also works there and is played by Sacha Dhawan who won our Best TV and Film Actor monsta last year and here brings a real warmth to a character who is unafraid of offering physical comfort to patients until an erroneous complaint from a patient.

If we had a major criticism of Allelujah! it would be that in appearing current, the topical subjects (#MeToo, immigration visas for doctors, euthanasia and the strength of individual will versus communal might) seem a little tick box rather than coalescing into something greater than the sum of their parts.

Much better are the song and dance scenes choreographed by Arlene Phillips, who is at this preview in the audience with us, which involve the dozen or so elderly patients in the supporting cast performing hits from yesteryear.

The 25-strong ensemble is an absolute joy with Jeff Rawle especially good as Colin’s father who struggles to walk but can dance with Sister Gilchrist even after the penny has firmly dropped.

We also liked the surly pout of David Moorst as the work experience who observes more than he initially lets on.

Bennett’s strength is an ear for dialogue, particularly strong for elderly northern women, and Gwen Taylor is the main recipient of his finest sidesplitting work.

Rather less well-rounded is Salter, the hospital trust chairman, who is two-dimensional, almost cartoonish and in an unguarded moment to a documentary film crew lets slip: ‘Nobody likes old people, not even old people. You’re not putting that in.’

Our 84-year-old author is on firmer ground as he mulls over society’s attitude to the old people who wait for visitors who never arrive in their ward.

As we leave the theatre we hear an audience member speculate that Allelujah! will transfer to Broadway as The History Boys did. For us it was not as good as that, nor The Lady In The Van, but there are moments when Allelujah! sings (and dances) that it really soars.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Bridge Theatre. Tickets
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