'Talking Heads' by Alan Bennett
'Her Big Chance'
'Bed Among the Lentils'
Directed by: Richard Parish
Design by: Michael Clements
Lighting by: Nigel Greenaway
Original Music by: David Perkins
Sound by: Alex Lyon
Cast: Karen Sahlsberg, Karen Brooks and Caroline Dooley
For a direct link to the GALLERY of PHOTOGRAPHS of this production CLICK - : Talking Heads
'Talking Heads' is a series of monologues originally written for television. They reflect Bennett's marvellously observant view of the British way of life. They are touching, real and very funny.
In ‘Soldiering On’, the recently bereaved Muriel is a strong woman, who has always has been a pillar of the community, a regular charity worker, and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Lesley is an aspiring actress in, ‘Her Big Chance’ and Susan, a nervous, alcoholic, vicar’s wife,in ‘Bed Among the Lentils’
This production was presented at Riverhouse, Walton-on-Thames
The Cast of 'Talking Heads', Karen Sahlsberg, Karen Brooks and Caroline Dooley
'Sardines' Magazine REVIEW OF 'TALKING HEADS' BY BRITTANY REX
Many Brits are probably already familiar with “Talking Heads”, which Alan Bennett originally wrote for BBC television in the late 1980's. Several of the instalments instantly became cult classics. With that in mind, Lighted Fools Theatre Company face the difficult task of making these speeches stage worthy as they were devised for the confessional privacy of a television camera.
Fortunately, director Richard Parish has managed to successfully stage three of the monologues for women; “Soldiering On” heart-warmingly delivered by Karen Sahlsberg (Muriel), “Her Big Chance” performed by the delightfully funny Karen Brooks (Lesley), and “A Bed Among the Lentils” superbly acted by Caroline Dooley (Susan). Presented in three 35 minutes chunks, ''Talking Heads'' provides a perfectly pleasant evening of entertainment. All three monologues are brilliantly modulated and epitomise English exercises in dramatic irony. Raise the actors’ voices, literally or figuratively, and you risk turning them from complex character studies into ludicrous caricatures.
For Bennett aficionados, Sahlsberg perhaps has the hardest speech to deliver of the three. In “Soldiering On'', we meet Muriel, a stoic and initially wealthy widow. Dealing with the aftermath of her husband's death, Muriel relates the entire funeral wistfully, as if it were a conversation over afternoon tea. While the monologue started off a bit low in energy, Sahlsberg managed to pick up the pace and emotion through the escalating disaster of the final two scenes. While her circumstances crumble around her, Muriel 'soldiers on'. She manages her mentally ill daughter with endurance and naively accepts her son ruining her financially. Finally, she is reduced to living in a bed-sit outside town. Sahlsberg gives Muriel dignity, determination and warmth. Although she cannot bear to be seen as tragic, we feel for her the frustration and rage to which she refuses to succumb.
Portraying an ardent actress in ''Her Big Chance,'' Karen Brooks charmingly recalls the events leading up to her big break in a West German skinflick. Her bubbly energy is infectious and she had us laughing all the way through. The actress must be commended for her comedic timing and naive portrayal of Lesley; it was clear that the character did not fully understand what she was getting herself into. Brooks also displays great naturalness on stage. During the opening scene she made preparing and eating breakfast look easy, although I can assure you this is anything but! Her delivery was spot on and she seemed to be right at home on stage. I also thoroughly believed her portrayal of the men in her life: Nigel, Gunter and Alfredo...I hope to see more good things from Brooks in future.
Caroline Dooley has the job of following Dame Maggie Smith's immortal interpretation of ''Bed Among the Lentils.'' Dooley’s performance is quite simply, everything you could wish it to be. Susan's role as an alcoholic vicar's wife is made immediately clear through her idiolect. She creates a lovely arrangement of descriptions of the people in her life, from Geoffrey to Mrs. Frobisher. Even though she mocks the church on many occasions it is obvious that it is a major part of her life by her use of quite obscure references from the Bible. Dooley takes her character through a maze of seemingly everyday events that somehow lead her into uncharted, exotic, lustful territory. She is utterly captivating, watchable and memorable. The actress could certainly take this ‘hobby’ into the professional realm if she so wishes.
Credit must certainly be given to the director for providing us with a slick and well performed showcase of monologues. It was evident that the actors were in their director’s capable hands from start to finish. The set was simple but served well in providing three distinct areas for each of the characters to inhabit their world. The lighting was particularly effective with the use of a variety of window shape gobos, each perfectly suited to the character and location of the speeches.
Next up from Lighted Fools is Arthur Miller’s The Price, performing at The Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford from Thursday 18th to Saturday 20th April 2013.
REVIEW OF ‘TALKING HEADS’ BY JEFF THOMSON
“Talking Heads” by Alan Bennett is a series of six monologues that are now widely regarded as modern classics; when originally broadcast on television in 1988 it sealed, for a wider public, Bennett’s reputation as a master of observation. It was then considered groundbreaking but twenty-five years on, less so.
‘Lighted Fools’ a Guildford area theatre company – and one that has garnered local awards, regional recognition and national acknowledgement in festival competitions - offered three monologues from the original TV series at the Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre, Walton.
I was intrigued why director Richard Parish (who has a reputation for more challenging work) would select ‘a cosy’ option but his reasoning became self-evident as I was reminded in performance that Bennett’s monologues are both heart wrenching and darkly subversive. Here were three ‘conversations’ lightly offered that revealed - tissue layer by tissue layer - fragmented, disintegrating lives, that ranged from the sadly poignant through to the deeply tragic.
Caroline Dooley, in ‘Bed Among the Lentils’ captured the frustrations of Susan, a vicar’s wife from whom we deduce her marriage to be unfulfilled; steadily we understand the stifling routine of her life and realise her dependency on ‘Communion wine’ by the imperceptible tremble of her hands and subtly disjointed speech. That she found release in the arms of Mr Ramish, her local corner shop proprietor, seemed an inevitable progression.
Karen Brooks played Lesley in ‘Her Big Chance’ – a bittersweet tale of optimism over circumstance; we learn that Lesley has had an diffident acting career; we slowly conclude her latest role is in a soft-porn film being made for “the German and maybe the Turkish markets” but Lesley struggles for the motivation she considers pivotal for removing her bikini. After tedious discussion with Gunter, her German director, she goes naked for the camera as an obscure gesture of defiance to men!
Bennett’s sensitivity to language is very apparent in this piece; it has both rhythm and poignancy. Parish and Brooks pointed up a comedic aspect when mimicking Lesley’s on-set colleagues; the upside result introduced something fresh but the downside was a dent in Lesley’s alleged naivety and diffidence. It remained a confident and assured interpretation but for me the mimicry fractured too many moments
“Soldiering On” is perhaps the less showy play of the three – we meet Muriel a former volunteer for ‘meals-on-wheels’ but now requiring their support. Muriel, however, has a capacity to endure, forgive and soldier-on.
It is a finely tuned piece, full of subtlety and shadows of reflection; it needs a mature interpretation. With Karen Sahlsberg it got just that; her cadences of voice, economy of gesture, the occasional soulful gaze into the auditorium – each contributed to a character suppressing emotional pain. Sahlsberg wasn’t shy of pausing and allowed orchestrated moments to hang – quiet moments for us to share Muriel’s loneliness. It was an excellent piece of work.
With direct competition from the Olympics, the audiences at the Riverhouse Barn were at full capacity. That has to be good going.
COMMENTS FROM OUR AUDIENCE ON 'TALKING HEADS'
Just a quick note to say how much we enjoyed the show last night. All three performances were exemplary and after each one I heard others saying, ‘Isn't she good?’ which we wholeheartedly agreed with.
Loved the Vicar's wife who was so understated and had lovely touches.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the ‘Talking Heads’ presentations on Thursday.
Thank you for giving us so much pleasure
Loved the material and loved the performances.
I so take my hat off to all three of the performers for taking on such a project and executing it so very, very well. I really enjoyed the evening. Was glad to see you get so much support too.
Well done to all the performers for last night's performance. It was really good and I would highly recommend it to anybody who hasn't already got a ticket.
The whole evening was very entertaining. As we all know, Alan Bennett writes beautifully but the real enjoyment is all in the delivery which you did perfectly.
Thought the music was terrific – guessed it was David Perkins before we even read the programme!