The Habit of Art

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The Habit of Art
Written byAlan Bennett
CharactersW. H. Auden
Benjamin Britten
Date premiered5 November 2009
Place premieredLyttelton Theatre, London,
United Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
SettingOxford, 1973

The Habit of Art is a 2009 play by English playwright Alan Bennett, centred on a fictional meeting between W. H. Auden and Benjamin Britten while Britten is composing the opera Death in Venice. It premiered on 5 November 2009 at the Lyttelton Theatre at the Royal National Theatre, with the central roles filled by Alex Jennings as Britten and Richard Griffiths as Auden (the latter replacing Michael Gambon, who had to withdraw from the production due to minor ill health).[1] The performance of April 22, 2010 was broadcast to more than 200 cinemas worldwide by NTLive.


The Habit of Art centres on Fitz, Henry, Tim and Donald, who are actors rehearsing a play called Caliban's Day. (The title reflects Auden's view that The Tempest was incomplete and Caliban should have an epilogue.) The director has been called away, so they have a run-through/workshop directed by the stage manager, Kay, in the presence of the playwright, Neil.

Caliban's Day is about a fictitious meeting in 1973 in Auden's rooms at Oxford, between Auden (Fitz) in his latter years and Britten (Henry). Auden has hired a rent boy, Stuart (Tim) and when Humphrey Carpenter (Donald) - who will write biographies of both Auden and Britten after their deaths - arrives to interview him, Auden mistakes him for Stuart. Britten has been auditioning boys for Death in Venice nearby, and arrives unexpectedly (their first meeting in 25 years after they fell out over the failure of their opera Paul Bunyan). He wants to discuss his misgivings about the paedophilic theme of Death in Venice and the light that may cast on his own life, but Auden assumes Britten wants him to write the libretto.

The characters intermittently break out of the rehearsal to discuss the play, how accurately/harshly it should treat Auden's failings, the actor's craft and many other issues raised by Auden, Britten and the play. In doing so, they reveal something of their own backgrounds.


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