31 Jul 2018

Allelujah! – 30th July 2018 Review


Alan Bennett’s latest play throws open the doors of fictional ‘The Beth’, a hatch ‘em and dispatch ‘em local hospital in northern England that’s in danger of closure. It teems with Bennett’s signature wit, working class grit, eccentric characterisation and the humour born of everyday minutiae. With plenty to say about the state of the UK, it strikes the balance between comforting cosiness and sociopolitical foreboding.

Feeling the pressure of NHS cuts, the hospital trust chairman is turning up the smarm in an attempt to win over the public and the folk in Westminster. He’s selling a small-town, sentimental picture of life at ‘The Beth’, but doesn’t mention that there is rarely a spare bed going. A young Whitehall bureaucrat scoffs at his efforts, explaining to him that, “the state cannot be seen to be working”. Elsewhere, the geriatric ward has formed a choir, a documentary crew is searching for a story and a nurse is taking the matter of the bed shortage into her own hands.


Sandwiched between the dialogue are heart-warming dance and song numbers performed by the elderly residents. During these nostalgic ditties, a patient tips a disposable bed pan to her head like a fedora, the patients’ infighting dissipates into smiles and the looming threat of mortality is vanquished.

Far from being just a wistful Last of the Summer Wine-esque comedy, Allelujah! confronts the tribulations of the NHS and its lack of backers in positions of power, our attitudes to the elderly and our contradictory immigration policies. Its intention is good, but it never quite packs the punch you’re waiting for.

The play goes into direct-address mode to wrap up, summing up its themes in what seems a little too much like a lecture. This spelling-out is an unnecessary decision; Bennett should have more faith in his own subtlety, and in his audience.

Bennett‘s long-time collaborator Nicholas Hytner directs, giving every dance step and pithy remark divided between the large ensemble its moment to shine. Bob Crowley‘s set consists of slick sliding partitions that take us from one room or corridor to another, at once sterile and pleasing. George Fenton‘s musical compositions and Arlene Phillips‘ choreography add light to counter the shade.

A strong cast maximises the warmth and humour of Allelujah!. Deborah Findlay is authoritative and divisive as Sister Gilchrist. Jeff Rawle is a riot as forthright patient Joe, who can dance but not walk. The sweet-voiced but sharp-edged Mrs. Maudsley aka ‘the Pudsey Nightingale’ is played with spot-on comic timing by Jacqueline Clarke.

Bennett‘s first play since 2012’s Cocktail Sticks is dark of humour and big of heart. It doesn’t reach the formidable heights of Talking Heads or The History Boys, but the great playwright is back, so we’ll take it.

Reviewed by Laura Foulger

Laurs Foulger

About the Author


Goodness me I love this time of year! Why? Because I get to bask in the sun with a pint of cider at the London Wonderground before heading into the magical spiegeltent to watch some freaky circus. It is a glorious existence! Luckily for me, summer came a few weeks early as I was invited […]


It was early 2017 when new musical Come From Away opened on Broadway, so it will have been an impatient two-year wait by the time we get to see it on this side of the pond. The West End launch party was a reminder of this sorry fact, whilst also serving to ramp up our […]


“A THRILLING ALLEGORICAL MICROCOSM” A vulnerable demographic, an accepted culture of violence, an angry mob, a spokesperson, a new school that seeks to tear down what went before; Mark Ravenhill’s new play The Cane is a perfectly arranged and oh so natural analogy. For what exactly, I’ll spare the spoilers (although this tale could be […]