Article by Rachel Perrin of Knutsford Little Theatre
Some of the finest writing in English theatre, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads has achieved iconic status.
Choosing three of the celebrated monologues – A Lady of Letters, A Chip in the Sugar and Her Big Chance – the latest production at Knutsford Little Theatre brings Bennett’s brilliantly observed characters to life.
Director Lucy Oliver stated: “Even though Alan Bennett’s TV monologues Talking Heads were first shown in 1988 and they have been lodged in the memory as entertaining exercises on timeless universal themes that are still seen today with the ignorance of some of the characters leading to racist views, examples being based on recent extreme incidents: Maybe set in this century, Miss Ruddock might now be an internet troll; and Lesley might now be a member of the #MeToo movement.”
Lucy added: “The major theme running through these plays, however, is mental health and the need to talk.
“I have been lucky enough to specialise in this field for the past 20 years, teaching students with various mental health needs and am passionate about championing the need for communication, which in turn reduces stigma and leads to better awareness and support.
“The theatre is very proud to support the cause through showing these highly-entertaining plays.”
With a feat of memory for the actors concerned, the monologues combine wry humour, tragedy and humanity.
Bennett’s monologues are as generously humorous as one remembers but are also heart-wrenching, acute mini-tragedies.
Here are three ‘conversations’ lightly offered that slowly reveal – tissue layer by tissue layer – fragmented, disintegrating lives that range from the sadly poignant through to the deeply tragic.
The three protagonists provide comforting but also challenging stereotypes. What one notices most of all is the sense that these characters are shoring their resources against unthinkable alternatives.
A Lady of Letters
Jacky Slater, last seen at Knutsford Little Theatre in ‘Ladies Down Under’, sets the standard for an evening of quality theatre as the wonderfully self-righteous, obsessive letter-writing, busy-body Miss Ruddock bringing out the humour of the piece with aplomb.
The story of this lonely and disturbed woman, who puts pen to paper at every opportunity, is told by Jacky with great skill and emotion at every turn.
A Chip in the Sugar
Mike Wilding, a KLT veteran, continues the narratives, completely grasping the strange character of Graham, a mentally fragile man who lives with his mother and struggles to come to terms with a threat to their mutually dependent relationship.
As the story unfurls Mike delivers a confident performance as we learn more about Graham’s state of mind as he describes his concerns delicately playing on the gaps between what Graham says and his real feelings and his dependence on his mother.
Her Big Chance
Concluding the trilogy of these beloved monologues is Jo Sutton, who makes a welcome return to the KLT stage after taking the lead role in John Godber’s ‘Perfect Pitch’.
Jo plays Lesley in Her Big Chance – a bittersweet tale of optimism over circumstance; we learn that Lesley has had a sporadic acting career, but keeps her ever- deluded optimism.
This is possibly the funniest of the plays but also perhaps the cruellest.
She is the most transparent of all the narrators and Jo’s reporting of conversations, especially her excellent facial expressions and delivery, make it possible for us to understand what is really going on.
With effective staging where the minimalist walls stretch to a vanishing point suggesting shrinking of characters’ lives whilst retaining the illusion of the contrasting vast, exterior world of each character that exists beyond their room.
The characters link through the theme of mental illness revealing psychological troubles. The setbacks this up with walls floating and fracturing from one focus point echoing effect similar to those in the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme or effect as you will.
Coupled with the skill of all three actors, this production does full justice to the brilliance of Bennett’s work.
Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is on at Knutsford Little Theatre from Wednesday 19th to Saturday 22nd September 2018, with 2-for-1 tickets available on the Wednesday performance.
To book tickets, visit our website knutsfordlittletheatre.com.