Friday, 14 August 2015

Talking Heads

Alan Bennett’s genius and subtle pace are lost in this disappointing revival

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads mastered the tricky form that is the dramatic monologue. Readers of The Lady probably remember them as the best telly ever, with every shot filled with one person’s point of view but also vividly conjuring up a time (the 1980s) and a place (Leeds suburbia). Bennett-land. In Sarah Esdaile’s disappointing touring revival of a trio of them, atmosphere, wit and pathos evaporate. A stage is a very big space for one actor to fill, and there’s no opportunity for a revealing close-up.

In Lady Of Letters, Siobhan Redmond plays Miss Ruddock, professional busybody, who fills her empty days writing letters to the powers-that-be to register her disapproval of really important stuff such as the length of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hair or the staff of a crematorium having a crafty cig in the bushes. An inveterate curtain-twitcher, her beady eye is ever alert to such social sinfulness as ‘no cloth’ on the dinner table next door but she is wholly blind to such trivial matters as the neighbour’s child suffering a terminal illness. An extremely implausible prison sentence as a consequence of letters accusing the local lollipop man of kiddie-fiddling rechannels her energy into new skills such as smoking and swearing, and proves to be the making of her. As if. Redmond’s laborious delivery, with emphases in all the wrong places, overbalances and undermines the writing.

The painfully slow pace continues in the second piece, A Chip In The Sugar, in which Karl Theobald plays Graham, another mean-spirited, lonely individual, a repressed homosexual with obsessive compulsive disorder who gets into a tizzy when his 72-year-old mum finds herself a new boyfriend, Mr Turnbull, a gentleman’s outfitter. While the piece includes a sentence to treasure: ‘The best way to avoid a broken hip is to have a flexible mind’, too many off-colour xenophobic jokes make it feel uncomfortably dated and Graham emerges as a deeply unsympathetic, creepy sort of fellow one wouldn’t wish to spend another moment with.

Even the wonderful Stephanie Cole can’t dispel the memory of the late, great Thora Hird as Doris, the woman with a hygiene fetish in A Cream Cracker Under The Settee. The wretched cream cracker visible beneath a long-legged settee from the back of the stalls makes a nonsense of Doris only finding it when she has fallen to the floor when trying to dust a photograph. Unable to get up, frightened of being put in a home, Doris looks back at a life blighted by the death of her only baby. I should have been in tears. Instead I could hardly wait for Doris to breathe her last and a curtain to fall on this inept production.

Until 15 August at Theatre Royal Brighton: 0844-871 7627, www.theatreroyalbrighton.com
From 1 to 5 September at Theatre Royal Nottingham: 0115-989 5555, www.trch.co.uk


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