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The Habit of Art starring Matthew Kelly to be filmed in a closed performance for download

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IN LIGHT of the most recent government advice on COVID-19, The Original Theatre Company’s production of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art, which was due to open at Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne today (Wednesday, March 18, 2020), will now be filmed in a closed performance.

Although Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne has made the decision to close the theatre to the public, the company of The Habit of Art, having rehearsed for three weeks, still wanted to perform. The hope is that the filmed performance will be made available to audiences to download in due course.

Alastair Whatley, Artistic Director of The Original Theatre Company said: “We are so sad that our much loved production of The Habit of Art is being forced off the road in these exceptional circumstances. We all have some testing times ahead and I hope that this filmed recording will provide our audiences now at home with some welcome inspiration, entertainment and remind us all of the vital importance of art and all those who make it.”

Matthew Kelly, who plays W.H.Auden/Fitz, said: “We are all devastated by the developments and the cancellation of our show, but very happy that people will now be able to see the show…without a sanitiser.”

Previously Posted: Following a highly acclaimed tour in 2018, The Original Theatre Company and The Anthology Group in association with Peter Stickney and York Theatre Royal’s production of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art will return and tour the UK in 2020.

Directed by Philip Franks and starring Matthew Kelly as Fitz (W. H. Auden) and David Yelland as Henry (Benjamin Britten), the tour begins on March 18, 2020 at Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne.

The Habit of Art explores friendship, rivalry and heartache, the joy, pain and emotional cost of creativity. It is centred on a fictional meeting between poet W. H. Auden and composer Benjamin Britten.

Bennett wrote it as a play-within-a-play – actors Fitz, Henry, Tim and Donald are rehearsing a play called Caliban’s Day under the direction of stage manager, Kay, and in the presence of the playwright, Neil.

In Caliban’s Day, a fictitious meeting occurs in 1973 in Auden’s (Fitz) rooms at Oxford not long before he dies. Britten (Henry) has been auditioning boys nearby for his opera Death in Venice, and arrives unexpectedly – their first meeting in 25 years after falling out over the failure of their opera Paul Bunyan.

Matthew Kelly is currently appearing in BIG The Musical at the Dominion Theatre. His other West End credits include Waiting For Godot with Ian McKellan and Roger Rees, Tim Firth’s play Sign of the Times, the musical Lend Me A Tenor! and Lennie in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of Of Mice and Men at the Savoy Theatre, for which he won the Olivier Award for Best Actor.

Kelly’s other recent theatre includes Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel: A Concert (Cadogan Hall), The Box of Delights (Wilton’s Music Hal), Desire Under The Elms (Sheffield Crucible), Pride and Prejudice (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre/UK Tour), The Jew Of Malta, Volpone and Love’s Sacrifice (RSC) and Toast (Park Theatre/59E59 in New York).

Kelly’s television work includes the award-winning thriller Cold Blood, Benidorm and Bleak House, although he is probably best known for presenting You Bet! and Stars in their Eyes.

David Yelland’s theatre credits include Witness for the Prosecution (London County Hall), All Our Children (Jermyn Street Theatre), A Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare’s Globe), Taken at Midnight (Chichester Festival Theatre/Theatre Royal Haymarket). His West End credits include Deathtrap (Garrick Theatre), The Deep Blue Sea (Haymarket), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Strand Theatre), Richard III (Savoy Theatre – for which he won the Clarence Derwent Award), Life x3 (also at the Savoy Theatre) and Man and Boy (Duchess Theatre).

Yelland’s screen work includes the title role in David Copperfield, Nick Rumpole in Rumpole of the Bailey, George in Agatha Christie’s Poirot, EastEnders, The Crown and Endeavour (TV); Happy End (directed by Michael Haneke), Hunter Killer, Coriolanus (directed by Ralph Fiennes), Field Marshal Haig in Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful (directed by Pat O’Connor) and The Prince of Wales in Chariots of Fire (film).

The cast of The Habit of Art also includes Veronica Roberts (as Kay, the Stage Manager), Robert Mountford (the Author, Neil), John Wark (Donald – Humphrey Carpenter), Jessica Dennis (George, the Assistant Stage Manager) and Benjamin Chandler (Tim – Stuart).

Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art premiered at the National Theatre in November 2009, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Richard Griffiths, Alex Jennings and Frances de la Tour. The National then toured the production in Autumn 2010 with a new cast led by Desmond Barrit, Malcolm Sinclair and Selina Caddell.

The 2020 UK Tour of The Habit of Art will be directed by Philip Franks and designed by Adrian Linford, with lighting by Johanna Town, sound by Max Pappenheim and casting by Joyce Nettles.

The Habit of Art is suitable for ages 12+.

Following the Eastbourne dates (March 18 – 21), the production will tour to Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (March 23 – 28), King’s Theatre, Edinburgh (March 31 – April 4), Curve, Leicester (April 6 – 11), Royal & Derngate, Northampton (April 13 – 18), Theatre Royal Bath (April 27 – May 2), Ashcroft Playhouse, Fairfield Halls, Croydon (May 4 – 9), Theatr Clwyd, Mold (May 11 – 16) and Exeter Northcott Theatre (May 18 – 23).