Untold Stories: Hymn and Cocktail Sticks

Previewed 22 March 2013, Opened 2 April 2013, Closed 15 June 2013 at the Duchess Theatre in London

Two autobiographical recollections written by Alan Bennett Untold Stories in London starring Alex Jennings as 'Alan Bennett'.

Hymn is a touching memoir of music in childhood with an evocative score by George Fenton. Cocktail Sticks revisits some of the themes and conversations of Alan Bennett's memoir A Life Like Other People's. A son talks to his dead father as his mother yearns for a different life. It's funny, tender and sad.

The cast for Untold Stories - Hymn and Cocktail Sticks in London features Alex Jennings as 'Alan Bennett' along with Derek Hutchinson, Gabrielle Lloyd, Maggie McCarthy and Jeff Rawle. Hymn is directed by Nadia Fall with designs by Bob Crowley, lighting by Tom Snell and sound by Mike Walker. Cocktail Sticks is directed by Nicholas Hytner with designs by Bob Crowley, lighting by Tom Snell, sound by John Leonard and music by George Fenton. This production was originally staged at the National Theatre from 22 November 2012 to 9 February 2013.

"I was not expecting much of Untold Stories, with its self indulgent promise of how it would illuminate 'recollections' from the writer's early life. I'd not, however, reckoned with Alex Jennings, who has a tendency to cross another thin dividing line: the one that separates acting the part of a well-known character and taking the mick out of one. This seditious fellow parodies Bennett every bit as mercilessly as he did the Prince of Wales in the film The Queen. He is a wicked delight... The first act, directed by Nadia Fall, tells how the writer first became acquainted with music, and it is deadly dull - far too much of the Southbank Sinfonia and far too little of Jennings's comedy northerner. Act two, directed by Nicholas Hytner, focuses on Our Alan's relationship with his parents, and, while outrageously snobby, it is a hoot." The Sunday Telegraph

"This double bill of monologues, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, offers tear-prickingly poignant and pithy Proustian excursions, though it's dripping, glacÚ cherries, his mother's fascination with cocktail parties, and the strains of The King of Love My Shepherd Is that prompt them. Alex Jennings is exceptional as Bennett, capturing not just the familiar Yorkshire cadences, the boyish hair, the thin lips, but even the diffidence of Bennett's gait. The first piece, Hymn, to the accompaniment of a string quartet, seems a minor masterpiece. In an unhurried 25 minutes, it meditates meaningfully on ageing, Anglicanism, CP Snow's brand of culture and the wholesale wastage of the First World War. A delight, with some bite." The Sunday Times

"When Untold Stories moves to the West End... people will be able to see some of the best of Alan Bennett. This despite the fact that these two short pieces are not so much plays as musing monologues that conjure action through recollection. Bennett puts more into a drifting three-quarters of an hour than most dramatists, himself included, manage in a long evening of tightly structured drama. Here we have Leeds, Oxford, disappointment, a history of hymns, dementia, very good jokes and the excellent Alex Jennings. It is partly the shock of recognition that make people laugh when Jennings comes on as the author. He gets it all, the manner, the look and the spirit: hands in sports jacket pockets, V-neck sweater, tow-coloured mop and elongated vowels that blow through the speeches like sighs... Both pieces are truly made for the stage. Though there are enough good sentences to read well on the page, they are breathed into life by being spoken." The Observer

Alex Jennings' London stage credits include playing the role of the composer 'Benjamin Britten' opposite Richard Griffiths as the poet 'WH Auden' in Nicholas Hytner's production of Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 2009, the role of 'Subtle' opposite Simon Russell Beale as 'Face' in Nicholas Hytner's revival of Ben Jonson's comedy The Alchemist at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 2006, the role of 'Walter Burns' opposite ZoŰ Wanamaker as 'Hildy Johnson' in Jack O'Brien's production of John Guare's His Girl Friday at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 2003 and the role of 'Professor Henry Higgins' in Trevor Nunn's revival of the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady at Drury Lane Theatre in 2002.

Alan Bennett's plays recently presented in London include The Madness of George III starring David Haig as 'King George III' at the Apollo Theatre in 2012, The Habit of Art atarring Richard Griffiths, Alex Jennings and Frances de la Tour and directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 2009, Enjoy starring Alison Steadman and David Troughton and directed by Christopher Luscombe at the Gielgud Theatre in 2009, The History Boys directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre 2004, transferred Wyndham's Theatre 2006 and The Old Country starring Timothy West, Jean Marsh and Simon Williams and directed by Stephen Unwin at the Trafalgar Studios in 2006.

Untold Stories in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 22 March 2013, opened on 2 April 2013 and closed on 15 June 2013.