Tuesday, 1 September 2015

TALKING HEADS by Alan Bennett
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

"Talking Heads" is a series of three monologues, or should that be monodramas, with a theme of loneliness and age running through the three. there are also minor threads of religion and race interspersed in them all to various degrees.

Never having seen, or heard of this set of three playlets under the umbrella of "Talking Heads", I was looking forward to seeing this Bennett offering. After all he was responsible for one of my favourite films, and plays, "The History Boys", so I expected it be Northern based, funny as well as a dollop of emotion. I was not wrong. Alan Bennett is one of our finest playwrights, delivering real life, almost kitchen sink drama bordering on soap opera to the stage.

Siobhan Redmond gave us Miss Ruddock in "Lady Of Letters". A lady who at first you perceive as a lonely elderly lady whose enjoyment in life was writing to companies and organisations, bringing miniscule, but irksome to herself to their attention. You feel sorry for her because this is what keeps her going through her lonely existence. She worries that the new neighbours seem to be neglecting their young child by going out every night and leaving the child home alone. As the monodrama unfolds you discover that Miss Ruddock has a different side to her which contrasts to your original perception of her, and there's a twist at the end which you don't see coming.

"A Chip In The Sugar" is the second piece, played by Karl Theobold. Karl plays Graham, a role once played on stage by Bennett, who is the son of a 72 year old lady who bumps into an old flame and starts to relive her history with him. She is willing to marry the old flame and be whisked off on honeymoon, but Graham is visited by the old flame, Turnbull's daughter, who reveals that the marriage offer is not a valid, or moral one. His fear of having to leave the place he calls home to provide a marital love nest for the aged pair of love birds disappears as he reveals why marriage for Turnbull and his mother can't go ahead.

The final vignette, "A Cream Cracker Under The Settee", features the wonderful Stephanie Cole as Doris. Fighting to stay in her own home and not be moved out to a care home, she describes the cleaner, Zulema, who is the only one that stands between this unwanted move as a slacker who advises Doris not to "run round with the ewbank", but doesn't do the job herself. This reveals the cracker scenario after Doris hurts her leg while trying to check if Zulema dusted the photo of her late husband, Wilfred.

This is the most poignant monologue as we learn of the heartache of her lost child and Wilfred and his dreams which never became reality for him. Her independence got the better of her as she tried to get the attention of passers by as she struggled with her hurt leg, but then turned down the offer of help from a passing policeman. So true of many people, old and not so old today to battle on whatever, not wanting to show a weakness.The ending leaves you wondering if Doris just fell asleep or.....

Alan Bennett is a writer of our generation and a great people watcher and manages to capture what he sees and turn it into brilliantly realistic and emotive pieces of work. He paints pictures in your mind with his wonderful descriptive passages. We all like listening to stories and these three excellent translators of words to mind pictures are as talented an artist in their own right as any of the great painters.

Set in Yorkshire in the 1980's, the sets are simple, but there's no need for fancy sets because that's not what this piece of theatre is all about. It's all about the words and the imagery.

Powerful theatre which will make you think, and think again. You can see "Talking Heads" at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 5 September 2015.

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