PREVIEW NEW PLAY THE HABIT OF ART Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 23–Sat 27 Nov

From Picasso’s vaguely prurient late work, to Yeats’ references to tits and bums in his later poems, great artists have often taken great pleasure in alarming their audiences by entering into a second childhood with alarming sexual references. In Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art, an almost universally acclaimed comedy-of- mortality about to tour on a wave of acclaim from London critics, there’s a sense of this sprightly outrageousness, too. But it doesn’t necessarily come from the 75-year-old Bennett himself: instead he puts a lot of dirty-old-manisms into the mouth of the great modernist poet WH Auden.

If you can get over the elderly perviness, you’ll find this tour of a National Theatre hit a fascinating evening. Bennett presents a series of boxes around the story of Auden’s fraught artistic relationship with Benjamin Britten, imagining the rehearsal of a play inspired by Auden in which actors playing Auden and Britten question their respective lives as artists. But there’s

another frame in which Humphrey Carpenter interviews Auden in preparation for a biography, and yet another in which Auden and Britten meet late in life as the prim and buttoned-down Britten worries over his reputation in preparation for the paedophilic confessions that might be found in his Death in Venice. All these barriers between fiction and reality serve to

complicate, intriguingly, a series of questions about the role of the artist within a culture romantic self- isolator? Commercial artisan? Moral saboteur? Bennett leaves the questions he raises open, just as he did with his 2004 hit, The History Boys. Meantime, inevitably, the question of to what extent the biography of an artist is an honest attempt to come to terms with his or her oeuvre, rather than a simple exercise in celebrity voyeurism, is also raised by Bennett, a man notoriously protective of his privacy. Yet even here, Bennett has his cake and eats it, leaving us with a mixed bag of valuable insight and throwaway trivia. What remains unquestionable is that this piece has provoked riotous laughter amidst all the pondering in London, and might well do the same in Glasgow. (Steve Cramer)

PREVIEW NEW PLAY THE STRASSE Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 17 Nov

Edinburgh University’s Bedlam Theatre is perhaps one of the capital’s most prolific live performance venues, with adaptations and new writing showcased at lunchtimes and special week-long productions. The UK’s oldest student-run theatre, it’s been responsible for bringing several emerging playwrights, like Lucy Kirkwood and Ella Hickson, to the limelight. One of November’s highlights at the theatre, however, is atmospheric new play The Strasse by Tash Frost. Frost, a second year English

Literature and Spanish student, has been writing and directing plays at the Bedlam since her first year and her latest offering portrays a power struggle that breaks out between gang members in the fictional town of Meerstrasse. She says: ‘It’s an adaptation of a short story that I wrote this summer and an amalgamation of a few of the books I was reading at the time.’ The books she cites span a wide literary spectrum, from classics like Charles Dickens’ Hard Times to modern science fiction tomes such as The Ender Saga by Orson Scott Card. Currently slated for just one performance, the production nonetheless features 17 cast members. And with so many actors to play with, the writer seems particularly happy at being able to successfully re-create the energetic and ominous atmosphere of her script on stage. ‘It’s quite action- packed,’ she explains. ‘The action’s quite explosive at times, which is good fun for us. It’s very dynamic and very physical. I think it’s going to be a treat to watch.’ (Yasmin Sulaiman)

PREVIEW PICASSO PLAYS YO! PICASSO: BESIDE PICASSO / PICASSO’S WOMEN Ramshorn Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 19, Tue 23, Thu 25 & Sat 27 Nov (Yo! Picasso); Sat 20, Mon 22, Wed 24 & Fri 26 Nov (Picasso’s Women)

Picasso is taken out of the gallery and on to the stage as the Ramshorn presents two plays focusing on the turbulent life behind the canvas. Yo! Picasso opens with the artist’s death, as he enters into a state of limbo and is met by Sabartés, his long time friend, who leads Picasso through a ruthless recollection of the artist’s controversial behaviour. ‘It’s very intense,’ says director Andy Moore, ‘but it’s very true to the history of it all the paintings, all the dates and times and places . . . but it’s quite arty and it’s very funny as well.’

A fierce sparring match told from the male perspective, the play is matched with its partner production, also penned by Brian McAvera, which reverses the viewpoint, offering an entirely female portrayal. Picasso’s Women is a series of monologues told by the artist’s various wives and lovers. ‘Picasso famously once said women should be either goddesses or doormats and art historians have very much gone down that line when writing about his female companions,’ says director Sara Harrison. ‘However, this play explores what the women really thought and fills out their characters, because that’s never been done before.’

Both plays stand as individual works but, like a cubist painting, Harrison suggests, ‘The theory is that in order to see the whole picture, if you like, then you have to see all of the angles from which the story comes.’ (Amy Russell)

84 THE LIST 18 Nov–2 Dec 2010