As a theatrical production, the monologue is perhaps the most challenging interaction that an actor can have with their audience. There is no one else in between to deflect the concentration of, and on, the solo performer. Virtuosity is demanded and, barring a few opening night glitches, was delivered by all three actors in Mixed Company’s production of three monologues from the highly popular Talking Heads series. These were originally written for television by Alan Bennett for specific British actors, most of whom are well known and much loved. Fans of the series would, for example, have seen Maggie Smith as the vicar’s wife in Bed Among the Lentils and Patricia Routledge as the Lady of Letters, while Alan Bennett himself played Graham in A Chip in the Sugar.
Tough competition, but comparisons were definitely not odious in the case of seasoned actors Dale Murison, Bronwen Doherty and Brad Ashwood in these roles. More than that, putting these monologues on stage provides a more rounded perspective, metaphorically as well as literally. As a stage production, moreover, the visual elements assume an additional importance in differentiating three short plays, and this was done with remarkably effective economy through Simone de Haas’s costumes and sets, and Derek Griffin’s lighting design.
While each of the plays tells a very different story, they share a similar structure: the gradual unveiling, and at times unravelling, of a vulnerable person through conversations that they report having with people who are central to their lives, in some way or other, in a critical segment of time.
I am reluctant to go into any of the plot details: those in the audience who are familiar with them will enjoy the stylish performances directed by de Haas. And for those who are seeing them for the first time, part of the experience should be the element of surprise in the directions that Bennett takes his characters.
He does so with that fiendish combination of pathos and humour that is a hallmark of some of the best and most wrenching of British comedy, peopled by characters who have no intention of being funny, but whose situations and turns of phrase have you laughing and wincing at the same time. That Talking Heads is a particularly successful example of this genre is attested by its enduring popularity since it first appeared on television in 1988, and by the fact that it has morphed successfully into a number of other formats, not only into theatrical productions, but also as audio plays and academic teaching vehicles. (For anyone interested in finding out more about this, I can recommend a Google search using “Talking Heads by Alan Bennett”. This produced more than 5000 items, and some very useful background information for this review.)
However, as Talking Heads is on for only eight performances, those who want to see this very nice night’s entertainment need to put their skates on.
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