Fans of playwright Alan Bennett were no doubt excited to hear his new play PEOPLE a late entry to this year's National Theatre's schedule and due to be broadcast worldwide on NT Live. But in the meantime, whet your appetite for Bennett's insightful eye for character by reading SMUT. As the title suggests the two characters that Bennett examines in his twin stories are drawn to the subversive side of sex. Secrets are also of primary concern here. In fact, if it weren't so much fun to tell friends you are reading SMUT, I'd suggest Bennett re-title the volume SECRETS. Rest assured, however, this is no FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY sort of smut but the English sort that lies quietly beneath the surface causing more concern than pleasure.
The first tale, "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" introduces a recent widow who earns extra income as a 'demonstrator' at a local medical school. She also daringly decides to open her home to paying lodgers, and that is where her tale takes a twist for the sordid. In lieu of rent from a free-spirited young couple, a voyeuristic arrangement becomes part of the tenancy. Soon, paranoia envelopes Mrs. Donaldson when she fears her fellow 'demonstrators' as well as the medical staff are sniggering about her nocturnal activities.
In the second, "The Shielding of Mrs Forbes", a prim but forthright mother highly disapproves of her fastidious son Graham's choice of a wife; a plain Jane practical girl she deems unworthy. Unbeknownst to mother and wife, Graham has been sneaking off to clandestine meetings with Kevin, a blackmailing policeman who aims to keep weddEd Graham paying even after the nuptials. Despite the abundance of family secrets, the end proves that Mrs. Forbes may not have needed shielding after all.
Being a playwright, Bennett has a terrific ear for dialogue and can stop you mid-page with his unique turn of phrase: "The vicar likes you to pretend you believe in God. Everyone knows this is a formality. It's like the air hostess going through the safety drill." Anyone familiar with his work will see similarities to his TALKING HEADS plays; both detail the interior lives of introspective Yorkshire women where sex (or smut) is the secret around which the characters' inner strife spins. This is a slight (hardly unseemly) volume, but well worth a read while waiting for PEOPLE.
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