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Talking Heads

Sometimes you can spend two hours at the theatre and come out feeling that’s two hours of my life I’m never going to get back. I thought that might happen tonight watching three monologues by Alan Bennett.

How wrong could I have been?

One word, really, sums up the evening: genuine, enthralling, compelling, spellbinding, funny, moving. You pick one, any one will do.

It is a very hard thing to do to hold an audience for 30 minutes or so all by yourself but Harry Susser as Graham in A Chip in the Sugar, Jenny Sibley as Doris in A Cream Cracker Under the Settee and Marie Bushell as Lesley in Her Big Chance, were well up to the task.

One of the things I like to see the least when I go to see a play is people acting. I know that sounds odd but I really don’t like it when I see people acting something; I really need my actors to “be” the person they’re portraying. I want them to be genuine. I saw no acting this evening. All three performance were utterly honest and the more compelling for being so.

Harry drew us into Graham’s world in seconds and spun a spellbinding story of compassion and love for his demented mother even though Graham himself is suffering with mental issues of his own. Harry’s tiny gestures, the placement and movement of feet, hands clasping and reclasping themselves, furtive glances, all build a picture of a man not at ease with himself. A story quite beautiful, touching, gentle, funny, moving.

Whereas A Chip in the Sugar deals with mental frailty, A Cream Cracker Under the Settee deals with aging and the descent into physical helplessness whilst retaining your mental faculties. An interesting choice of two of the monologues.

This time, Jenny seduces us into her world. Losing none of her evident feistiness of youth and being let down by her body she has had to succumb to the patronising attitude of the state home-help and threats of institutionalisation – that she fears more than death – if she can’t cope on her own. While Graham related a story, I had a sense that Doris, immobilised and isolated by a fall, was internally reminiscing  her life; her still born child; her late husband; opportunities lost. The whole performance was quietly stunning. It moves me to tears even now as I think back on it.

And then there was something completely different when Lesley, clearly as mad as a box of frogs, burst onto the stage. Totally convinced she is God’s gift to the film industry, she tears through her story of fatally optimistic expectations of high principle and stardom. It doesn’t matter what she does or doesn’t do. What matters is the conviction with which she does it. Marie Bushell was totally believable.

My other pet hate is visible direction – at this point I must get up and move from here to there; why? Because that’s what I’m told to do. Or, I have to say this line this way (no idea why) but that’s what I’m told to do.

The greatest compliment I can pay to Chaz Davenport is, “I didn’t see any direction!”. Deftly mastered with the lightest of touch. Brilliant!!

I loved the incidental music and the lighting was spot on. My only criticism: why were the actors set so far away from the audience? I would have loved them to be more intimate.

Talking Heads runs until 26th January. Enrich your life and get down to the Barrington in Ferndown.