Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Forty Years On by Alan Bennett book review

Forty Years OnForty Years On by Alan Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Country is park and shore is marina, spare time is leisure and more, year by year. We have become a battery people, a people of underprivileged hearts fed on pap in darkness, bred out of all taste and season to savour the shoddy splendours of the new civility. The hedges come down from the silent fields. The lease is out on the corner site. A butterfly is an event.

Forty Years On was Alan Bennett's very first West End Play, set in the fictional Public School Albion House. The school is putting on an end-of-year play for the parents, which brings forth the medium of having a play-within-a-play. The within-play sees three people living through the World War, whereas the without-play sees the Public School boys and masters try and enact this play, with many interruptions and discourses.

It also sees the old fashioned, last generation Headmaster make way for the new Headmaster who appears to have ways that break and denounce tradition, which reflects the transition of the old Empire Britain in to the new, World-Wars surviving Britain. A changed Britain: a modern Britain, but at what cost? And at what cost to education are new ideas and old traditions brought in and taken away?

You can tell this is one of Bennett's earlier plays because the humour isn't as sharp and quite often there are some very blunt moments, and the whole story itself seems to stutter ever so slightly. The play-within-the-play is a narration of Great Britain as it goes through the changes of coming out of being an excellent empire, through two world wars and falling in a heap out of the other side.

We have Bennett's natural talent speaking for itself, for the most part. There are some very obvious jokes and some you must roll your eyes at, but the humour is both English and Bennett and nothing is better. I find it hard to rate plays, because they include none of the things I love about reading: description, character and world-building, and I need to see a play in order to really rate it, but Forty Years On spoke to me on a level that not many books can do.

"The Battle of Britain was 23 years ago and the world has forgotten it. Those young men, so many of whom I knew, flew up in to the air and died for us and all we believed in and all we believe in has so changed that they needn't have really died at all. It was all a nonsense." - Noël Coward

Great Britain has never known what to do with itself ever since the Empire was dissolved. How can a country even get over something like that, without having been defeated or invaded to the point of changing its identity completely?

This is what Alan Bennett is saying, though being a young playwright he only scratches the surface of it. Forty Years after the war-any war-and it seems as if it mightn't have happened at all, for all the good it seems to have done us. Time moves on a things that happen were only things that happened: things to be discussed.

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