IN The Habit Of Art, Alan Bennett imagines a meeting between the York poet WH Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten, two of the greatest British gay artists of the 20th century.

The Leeds playwright explores sex, death, creativity and art in his examination of friendship, rivalry and the desires of men that will open at York Theatre Royal tomorrow in its first revival, under the direction of Philip Franks, since it sold-out National Theatre premiere with Alex Jennings and Richard Griffiths in 2009.

David Yelland and Matthew Kelly will lead the cast, taking on the guise of Britten and Auden respectively in the play within the play in Bennett's multi-layered work.

"It’s going to be one of these voyages of discovery, to coin a phrase," says David. "I never saw the original production, and do you know, I'm quite glad I didn't because it was well reviewed, so no pressure there then!

"I'm coming to it freshly without any preconceptions. I think it’s a remarkable play and that shouldn’t be a surprise as it’s written by Alan Bennett. I’ve only done one other play of his and really did enjoy it very much. It was one of the Single Spies plays, A Question Of Attribution, playing Anthony Blunt. I loved that! All three of us, Matthew, Philip and me, have done Bennett at some point, but this is just the second time for me and I’m looking forward to it enormously."

David is working with Philip Franks for the second time in quick succession, having also been directed by him twice before in Nicholas Nickleby and A Marvellous Year For Plums, "We did Witness For The Prosecution at the old County Hall building in London; I was playing the 'Charles Laughton' role opposite Pip [Franks]. It's a wonderful role to do, but after six months your brain can get fried. It's much easier to keep things fresh on tour, going to different places, like we are with The Habit Of Art.

"And I do like touring, though I haven’t done it for a while. A perk of touring is to see places you wouldn’t get to see in the normal run of things, and I’ve been all over the place."

Performing a play within a play, playing an actor in turning playing Benjamin Britten presents its challenges: "It's like having to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time as you have two agendas going on," says David.

York Press:

Actor David Yelland: starring in The Habit Of Art

He will not be doing a direct "impression"of Britten. "I'm hoping people won’t know too much about Benjamin Britten so I can get away with being not exactly like him," he says. "With someone like Britten [as opposed to Gary Oldman and John Lithgow playing Churchill recently in Darkest Hour and The Crown], you possibly have a broader canvas because they are not so well known. Auden as well. I remember studying Auden at school and indeed at university but he’s not generally well-known."

David continues: "The only thing about Britten was that he had a very particular way of speaking, which I'm not doing but I feel I should evoke something of the way he spoke, with that old-fashioned Fifties enunciation, though it's set in the Seventies."

David stresses that The Habit Of Art is "not just about re-creating two people". "It’s about the creative process, friendship; wonderful Bennett themes really." he says. "One of the things I love about his plays is not only that they are blissfully funny but are written by a man who I feel cares about not necessarily in a hot-headed political way – he does have political views I know – but, without wishing to be pretentious, he has a lot of humanity."

For all its multi-layered structure, he describes Bennett's play as being "remarkably accessible". "There's a highly intelligent man at work on this play with a wonderful ear for dialogue, and it's our job to convey that to the audience.

"He remains a humble man; he never talks down to anyone and I love his range of wit and compassion too, which is why I wish I'd done more of his plays," says David, who will be making his York Theatre Royal debut.

"I'm looking forward to being in York; I haven't been there for years and I've never played this theatre." There is always time for new experiences, whether a York debut or immersing himself in Benjamin Britten's music. "I have been listening to quite a bit of it and it’s growing on me," he says.

Alan Bennett's The Habit Of Art runs at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow to September 8, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinees and 2pm next Thursday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at