THE first revival of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art is heading to Salisbury Playhouse this month.

It stars Matthew Kelly and David Yelland and is directed by Philip Frank.

Fitz, Henry, Tim and Donald are rehearsing a play called Caliban’s Day. In Caliban’s Day, a fictitious meeting occurs in 1973 in Auden’s (Fitz) rooms at Oxford not long before he dies.

Britten (Henry) has been auditioning boys for his opera Death in Venice, and arrives unexpectedly – their first meeting in 25 years after falling out over the failure of their opera Paul Bunyan.

Matthew, who plays W H Auden/ Fitz, says: “Habit of Art is about a fictitious meeting between [poet] Benjamin Britten and W H Auden, the composer and the poet, who knew each other well. They had collaborated on an opera in the 40s called Paul Bunyan. And this is about them collaborating on Britten’s final opera, which was Death in Venice. They never collaborated again because they fell out and never spoke after that.

“What is interesting about this play is it is a fictitious meeting of what might have happened had they got together but there is also a play within a play. Because the play, Habit of Art, is about a bunch of actors who are rehearsing a play which is about the collaboration between the two of them.

“It is a play about creativity, friendship, death, sex. It is very, very funny and very moving and rude.”

Matthew is no stranger to Alan Bennett’s work having performed in The History Boys and Kafka’s Dick. He says: “I love Bennett’s writing. What is great about Bennett is that he is inclusive.” explains Matthew. “He is a very truthful man and he mines great emotion in his characters. Even if a play is really tragic, it is always tremendous uplifting.”

He recalls meeting Alan Bennett at Heathrow Airport and admits he was “terribly star struck” and adds: “Of course when you meet people like that all the bones fall out of your arms and you don’t know what to say. He was terribly sweet and talked about the production that I had been in.”

On what audiences can expect, he adds: “They can expect to laugh a lot, to be moved and to be exhilarated at the same time. I think they will be pleasantly surprised.”

David stars as Henry who is playing Benjamin Britton, says the play is full of moments where rehearsals stop and they return to ‘real life’.

He adds: “Alan Bennett as you know is a witty writer, there’s loads of good humour and wit in it. Some of it to do with what actors are like when they’re rehearsing, some of it to do with the nature of the play that they’re meant to be rehearsing, so two bites of the cherry really.

“It’s a witty and humane exploration of things which concern us all.”

The Habit of Art runs from September 17-22. The 2018 UK tour of the show is being presented by the Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal.

For tickets call the box office on 01722 320333 or go to