The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
February 5, 6, 7 & 8, 2003.
by Alan Bennett
Simon Birks & Bob Ryder
Derek Watts – performed ‘A Chip in the Sugar’
Sheelagh Baker – performed ‘Soldiering On’
Patricia Lyne – performed ‘Bed Among the Lentils’
Lighting Design – Mike Medway
Sound Design – Simon Snelling
Technical Manager – John Garland
Stage Manager – Judith Berrill
Technician – Chris Grey
Front of House Co-ordinator – Betty Dawes
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Review #1: Talking Heads
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Stephen Critchett
Text Header: “It’s the talk of the town”
Text sub header: “Bennett classics go down a storm”
TOUCHING and titillating in equal measure, Wick Theatre Company’s production of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads kept the audience riveted from start to finish.
And that was no man feat, as the three performers in the monologues – all new to Wick but with a wealth of experience – ensured onlookers never tired of their tales of love and loss at the Barn Theatre, Southwick.
The plays, roughly 40 minutes each, consisted of the actor/actress talking direct to the audience about their character’s life. Broken up by use of short bursts of music and changes in position, we learnt more and more about the characters under the spotlight as they told us their tales.
The closer-than-usual proximity of the stage area to the audience added to the intimacy of the occasion and made you feel the characters were talking direct to you.
The first of the monologues, A Chip in the Sugar, featured Graham Whittaker, a middle-aged man still living with his dotty, 72-year-old mother. Graham [played by Derek Watts], obviously a bit of a mummy’s boy, grows concerned when his mother meets an old friend “pre-dad[!]” near the war memorial. His worries increase when his mum announces she plans to marry semi-retired Frank.
Vera’s increasing number of trips out with Mr Turnbull leave Graham at home alone and feeling vulnerable. Then, one night, while his mum is out, Mr Turnbull’s daughter knocks on the door and reveals he is still married. A shocked, yet relieved Graham breaks the news to his mum, who dumps Mr Turnbull. Derek Watts was entirely convincing and amusing as the doting son and held the audience’s attention well.
Next up was Soldiering On, with Sheelagh Baker in the rôle of Muriel, a well-to-do newly-widowed pillar of the community. Essentially a study of bereavement and its knock on effects, Soldiering On began with Muriel putting on a brave face and recalling her late husband Ralph’s funeral. But then, through a combination of, we gather, bad financial decisions, Muriel loses pretty much everything and gets to the stage where she is thought to need Meals on Wheels [the very thought!.]
Her descent from riches to [nearly] rags was tenderly portrayed by Sheelagh, whose character always kept her stiff upper lip, even if she was, at times, despairing. “None of this would have happened if he hadn’t died,” she said.
In the last of the three plays, Bed Among the Lentils, Patricia Lyne played boozy vicar’s wife Susan. Susan proved to be the antithesis of what we were expecting, carrying on with a local Indian shopkeeper in secret liaisons next to back of lentils at the back of the store. Patricia’s performance of the woman tired of keeping up appearances, whether it be for a visiting bishop or at church as the dutiful wife, created much hilarity – and the stain glass spotlight was a nice effect. Her drinking gets out of hand, and soon the communion wine ”goes missing”; and, to the audience’s delight, is replaced with cough mixture. But all good things must come to and end, and, as Mr Ramesh moves away, Susan goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, which, she said, was just a different type of church.
Talking Heads certainly lived up to its billing as a real treat for theatre lovers.
Review #2: Talking Heads
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
Text Header: Unknown
The choice of staging Alan Bennett’s monologues raised the question of how they would transfer from television, the medium for which they had been written, to live theatre. Would three solo performances hold an audience’s attention without the benefit of close-up and variety of camera angles? Such fears proved unfounded. The quality of the writing together with the high standard of sensitive acting from Derek Watts, Sheelagh Baker and Patricia Lyne, had the audience gripped throughout the evening.
Credit must also go to Bob Ryder and Simon Birks for their direction that avoided the temptation to open the monologues with excessive movement and break the concentration on Bennett’s superb text. Moving the character’s location for each time change was all that was needed to give a little variety.
A Chip in the Sugar explored the relationship between Graham and his elderly mother and the shift in dependency between them with the arrival of the mother’s old flame into their well-ordered lives. Graham’s story, along with those in the subsequent monologues, moved at a gentle pace with vital bits of information being revealed through subtle, almost throwaway lines.
The mother and son theme was continued in Soldiering On where the recently widowed Muriel is exploited by her son, whose mishandling of her finances leads to a drastic reduction in her standard of living. She is seen coming to terms not only with this, but also with her loss of a husband, both physically and emotionally as she becomes aware that his abuse of their daughter was the cause of her breakdown.
Whilst all the characters in the monologues are sad people, the writing provides much comedy. None more so than in Bed Among The Lentils, the tale of a vicar’s alcoholic wife who finds sexual solace from her drab life, in the back room of an Indian corner shop. Susan’s account of flower arranging after downing a bottle of communion wine was hilarious.