Alan Bennett’s The Habit Of Art heads from York to New York for Brits Off Broadway

Matthew Kelly, left, and David Yelland in The Habit Of Art. Picture: Helen Maybanks

YORK Theatre Royal’s co-production of Alan Bennett’s comedy The Habit Of Art with the Original Theatre Company is heading to New York as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival.

Premiered in York in September 2018, Philip Franks’s show starring Matthew Kelly will be  one of eight productions featured in 59E59 Theaters’ annual celebration of theatre from the UK.

Franks’s production begins its second British tour in March ahead of the American dates from May 29 to June 28 in one of 59E59 Theaters’ three off-Broadway spaces, having first toured Britain in Autumn 2018.

The Habit Of Art director Philip Franks

Leeds playwright Bennett’s 2009 play imagines a meeting between friends and collaborators W.H. Auden, the York-born poet, and composer Benjamin Britten. Most of the original cast are in the latest production, including Kelly, David Yelland and Yorkshire actor Benjamin Chandler, who made his York Theatre Royal debut in the 2018 company.

Kelly says: “I’ve done Brits on Broadway before in [Hull playwright] Richard Bean’s play Toast, which is very different to The Habit Of Art. But Americans are going to love Alan Bennett because they think they’re going to see something very British.”

John Wark, left, and Ben Chandler in The Habit Of Art. Picture: Helen Maybanks

Director Franks adds: “New York is the most wonderful city but there’s a huge challenge because it’s such an English play. I hope very much audiences will respond.”

The 2020 production of The Habit Of Art is produced by the Original Theatre Company and Anthology with Peter Stickney and York Theatre Royal.

Franks last directed in York in Summer 2019 when his Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre production of The Tempest ran at the Elizabethan pop-up theatre on the Castle car park.