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Finding the Wry Humour and Heart of the Everyday: Talking Heads

by on 22 March 2017

Talking Heads

by Alan Bennett

First triple bill programme


OHADS at The Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre

21st to 25th March

Review by Melissa Syversen

I may have been a mere twinkle in my father’s eye back in 1982 when A Woman of No Importance made its first appearance on the BBC, starring the legendary Patricia Routledge.  Luckily for me, British comedy, and especially those starring dear Patricia, are very popular on the cold shores of Scandinavia where I grew up.  And as my family’s resident anglophile, I quickly caught up at a young age and continued to follow the series original run through the 90s and still watch every rerun I could since.

A Woman of No Importance paved the way for Alan Bennett’s subsequent two series Talking Heads for the BBC and today they are often aired and performed together.   The series has been adapted to the stage many times, with many different combinations of monologues over the years.  The OHADS production at the Hampton Hill Theatre features six of Bennett’s texts divided into two sets of three, to be performed alternately.  I attended the set featuring A Cream Cracker under the Settee, Soldering On and A Chip in the Sugar, which can be seen Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday matinee.  The other set consisting of Bed among the Lentils, Her Big Chance and A Woman of No Importance can be seen Wednesday, Friday and the Saturday evening and will be reviewed separately

It has been almost thirty years since many of these texts were written, but they are as funny and moving as ever, a testament to Alan Bennett’s gift as a writer.  He has that uncanny, and dare I say important, ability to express the silent depth and wry humour of the humdrum life of normal people.  All three of the characters presented on Tuesday were sweet and familiar.  These are all people we know and meet daily, be it in the shop or at local events.  And this is what I think OHADS production captured so well.   The cast of three actors together with their directors successfully found and expressed the humanity of Bennett’s writing.

Fran Billington played Doris, an elderly woman who has taken a fall as she tries to dust after her sloppy home-help has left.  It is particularly moving as she recalls memories of her departed husband and son.  You could see it on her face as the memories of a long life came to her as she waited for help on the floor, the clock ticking away both physically and metaphorically.

In the second piece, Soldering On, we meet Muriel, also a widow, having just lost her husband Ralph.  We follow her through her strong can-do attitude as she deals not only with her friends and community as they try to grab what they can of her husband’s possessions (all in the name of charity of course), but also with a son who may or may not be a competent business man.  Clare Cooper captured Muriel’s can do spirit and grace retaining her dignity to through increasingly difficult circumstances.

The upstairs Coward studio at Hampton Hill theatre lends itself well to this play.  It is a smaller space and together with the simple and effective furnishing of each piece it creates a close and homey atmosphere, giving an added touch of intimacy.  Each of the three directors, Harry Medawar, Asha Harjan Gill and Rebecca Tarry, respectively, have kept things simple allowing their actors and the text to shine.  Malcolm Maclenan oversees light and sound.   The sound is particularly well utilised in the first piece, using a lovely soundscape like a slamming gate and neighbours passing as Doris waits for help, the clock ticking away.

The final monologue A Chip in the Sugar, a piece Bennett himself played in the series, stole the show.  Steve Taylor plays Graham, an older man living with his elderly mother who faces a minor crisis when an old acquaintance takes a romantic interest in his mother.  Taylor had a thorough and confident handle on the text, moving with impressive dexterity between the characters of the story.  With impressive voice work and clear storytelling, he found so many lovely moments of humour and heart and shared them with the audience.  A very strong finish to a lovely evening at the Hampton Hill Theatre.

Melissa Syversen

March 2017

Photographs by Bernard Wigginton


Talking Heads

Second  triple bill programme

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Review by Thomas Forsythe coming soon

From → Drama, Reviews

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