Talking Heads

by Alan Bennett; dir Gus MacDonald (BAtL), Sam Harris (ACitS) & Rachel Tompkins (ACCUtS)
Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa
18 – 28 July 2012

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is a series of monologues originally written for TV but which transfer well to the stage. Companies select two, or in this case three, pieces to perform, so you usually see a different mix in each production. They are all excellent pieces of writing; Bennett is a master at portraits of ordinary people who appear simple and amusing on the surface, but who have each have their own specific hopes, fears, problems, etc. Bennett teaches us that real drama occurs in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. So while we are laughing, we are also moved by these people and feel a familiarity with them.

Bed Among the Lentils
First up was Mary MacDonald as Susan, a vicar’s wife. Driven to boredom and alcoholism by sermons, flower arranging and the generally tedious life of her position, she embarks on an affair with an Asian shopkeeper. Very ably presented, with wonderfully timed pauses and slight raising of eyebrows, causing much merriment amongst the audience.

A Chip in the Sugar
In the second piece, Howard Scott Walker played Graham, a slightly odd, middle-aged son, still living with his mother. He is ousted from his mother’s affections by the arrival of an old boyfriend, only to emerge triumphant by the discovery that the latter is still married. Again, beautifully timed, but with more variance in pace than the previous piece – I was riveted to my seat, wanting more.

A Cream Cracker Under The Settee
Finally, the wonderful Anne Woods portrayed Doris, a frail 75 year old trying to maintain her independence, injured in a fall and lying on the floor. Anne’s own frailty added to the part and there cannot be many audiences who would not have empathised with her position, and felt trepidation at their own aging.

These were hugely intimate pieces handled with style and sensitivity by all three actors. It may have worked better in smaller surroundings, especially as audience numbers were not high, but the only real criticism for the actors is that on a few occasions I found myself straining to hear what they were saying. It would have also helped if it had been more clear that the show had finished as the audience remained seated waiting for the actors reappearance for final bows, which had been richly deserved.

All in all an excellent evening, but I cant help wondering whether on such a warm summer night (really!) that the original billing of Titfield Thunderbolt may have been a better choice.