Keeping On Keeping On
Faber and Faber and Profile Books
The octogenarian Alan Bennett certainly believes in giving his readers value for money. Keeping On Keeping On comes in at just over 700 pages thanks to the inclusion of pretty much anything and everything other than the major works that he wrote in the ten-year period to the end of 2015.
Just over half of this volume is devoted to his latest sequence of diaries. These contain a rich hodgepodge of work, rest and play.
During this decade, Bennett wrote plays including The Habit of Art and People as well as taking part in scripting and filming of the movie version of The History Boys.
In his earlier diaries, Bennett had been reticent about sharing some details about his private life but now, his partner, Rupert, has become an integral part of the story.
Together, they spend much time in Yorkshire and France, frequently searching out old churches and other buildings of architectural interest.
There is much gossip as well as telling of tales about friends, acquaintances and those who directly or indirectly become subjects of the plays.
Bennett also reflects on life as an old man, at the same time as harking back to younger days, particularly his early success in Beyond the Fringe.
For most writers, the diaries would have been enough but Keeping On Keeping On keeps on with so much more. There are introductions to the plays produced for the first time during the period, a specific diary written during filming of The History Boys and essays on a number of subjects from various publications. In particular, he pays homage to both the National Theatre and his close collaborator and its artistic director, Sir Nicholas Hytner.
The last 150 or so pages are devoted to the scripts of two pieces that each had a long genesis before one ended up on the radio, the other as yet to be filmed.
Denmark Hill is a quirky little tale that features an odd suburban family whose children become concerned after the death of the father, soon replaced in his wife's affections by another man. Cleverly using the play within a play concept borrowed from Hamlet, Bennett creates a whimsical but amusing radio piece.
In The Hand of God, the writer uses experience of the art world gained while a trustee of the National Gallery to write a characteristic comedy about the art world and in particular the dirty world of fakery and auction houses. It would be no bad thing if he could be persuaded to adapt The Hand of God for the stage, since it has enough humour and insight to please his legion of theatre-going fans.
In the meantime, they are likely to pick up Keeping On Keeping On (although the hardback weighs so much that might be a struggle and the Kindle version could be safer) and steep themselves once again in the wonderful world of Alan Bennett.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher