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William Samples, Chris McBeath

United Players presents People, a fairly recent work by acclaimed English playwright Alan Bennett. Best known for the biographical Madness of King George III and the sarcastic revue Beyond the Fringe, his mordant commentary on the state of England permeates through his afflicted and piteous characters. People is peppered with satirical criticism about English peculiarities concerning propriety, class, historical preservation and material valuation. 

Although Bennett’s writing brims with meaningful wit, its deeper significance may not resonate with Canadians. The first act seemed to wander into tangents due to an abundance of ideas and comments that I did not fully grasp. While act two was livelier, it nonetheless seemed contrived and predictable. 
 
Set in South Yorkshire, the once stately mansion of the Stacpoole family is now a dilapidated pile, cluttered and in need of repair. Over the years, the family fortune has crumbled as badly as the estate and now Lady Dorothy must decide how best to fund the restorations. 

Once a glorious model, Dorothy is also faded and jaded, traipsing around in her moth-eaten fur coat and ragged sneakers. She’s at odds with her sister June, the righteous archdeacon of Huddersfield, who wants to gift the house to the National Trust, who’ll restore the home but make it part of a historical property tour. 

Dorothy abhors the idea of strangers disturbing her privacy and herself becoming a museum piece. Instead, convinced she will reap millions, she invites an auctioneer, Bevan, to assess the contents of the house.

Unexpectedly, he pitches an idea to let the residence be sold off to a secret consortium called “The Concern”. This group will relocate the building to a “finer” neighbourhood where it will only be enjoyed by a privileged few. 

William Samples, Chris McBeath Chris McBeath
[L to R: William Samples, Chris McBeath; Chris McBeath]

While pondering this proposal, an old flame, Mr. Theodore, shows up and tries to convince Dorothy to let him use the house for a porn flick. From there, one would expect plenty of hilarity however the ensuing scenes are labored and unsatisfying. 
 
Bennett pitches some worthy ideas in People. Each of Dorothy’s offers represent a different metaphysical tier, but at the root, each bidder’s simply out to make money. The National Trust, supported by the archdeacon, embodies the realm of the righteous and holy. However, they won’t hesitate to exaggerate the property to appeal to as many paying visitors as possible. 

The Concern embraces worldly materialism and has no qualms about excluding the less privileged. Meanwhile, Mr. Theodore symbolizes primal needs and has no reservation about using the property for convenience. However, it’s his crew (and not the Trust) that does the most to restore Dorothy’s confidence and comfort. The Stacpoole house serves as a heartbreaking backdrop of human frailties, unfulfilled lives and decayed dreams. 
 
The competent United Players cast brings compassion to Bennett’s damaged characters under Adam Henderson’s thoughtful direction. Christine McBeath portrays the egoistic Dorothy with stately grace. Nancy Amelia Bell offers giddy laughs with her deadpan quips as Dorothy’s suffering companion, Iris while Kate Robbins is the authoritative, brusque June. 

Matt Loop, as the zealous Lumsden and Brian Hinson as a smarmy Bevan provide commendable support. Marcus Stusek’s resourceful set successfully depictes a derelict grand manor within the small confines of the Jericho Arts Center. Linda Begg’s prudently selected knick knacks enlivened the space and ambiance.
 
Fans of Alan Bennett plays will appreciate his unsparing criticism that private wants are constantly violated by public needs. People continues at the Jericho Arts Centre through November 29, Thursday through Sunday. Photos by Adam Henderson.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Her next big pursuit will be in the newly-introduced field of forensic linguistics.

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