Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Talking Heads - Gala Theatre - Review

Talking Heads
Gala Theatre, Durham
6th March 2018

Without doubt when going to see anything by Alan Bennett you know the writing will be good. For Talking Heads, the question would be whether the production team and cast are up to the job. As the name implies - there is a lot of talk and not much in the way of action - would the team be able to keep the audience's attention for two hours with just three monologues? That's a lot of talking by the three cast members!

It begins well with an intriguing, minimalist stage set - a room, viewed cornerwise, with a door and huge window and a triangular carpet - these will be the staple pieces of the set throughout. The way they are angled gives a sense of a diminishing perspectives - the asymmetric door and window frame, and the triangle of carpet draw the viewers eye towards the back of the stage. And as the three stories unfold, the view from the window changes to echo their situation.
Added to this are pieces of furniture relevant to each story, so we begin with a bed and a kitchen chair for Graham in a Chip in the Sugar. Susan talks at a solid table in the vicarage kitchen for  A Bed Among The Lentils.  And finally Muriel sits in splendour in her armchair surrounded by the furniture of her country house in Soldiering On.

The three stories follow three very different people, from different social backgrounds, but they each
share a sense loneliness, of not quite fitting in. Bennett writes with such empathy and compassion, 
creating finely observed and achingly realistic characters, to explore themes of mental health, isolation, family and community. He picks out the weaknesses and strengths of people and weaves them into the stories. They are populated with a wealth of instantly recognisable characters, not just just the three on the stage, but the ones that feature in their stories too.

The three cast members Ross Waiton, Zoe Lambert and Judi Earl give jaw-achingly funny, and heartbreakingly believable, portrayals of  Grahame, Susan and Muriel as they negotiate their own individual life puzzles. Three beautiful depictions of the sadness and resilience of human nature in the face of a society that is at best indifferent and at worst antagonistic towards them.

Talking Heads is a great production - it is funny, and sad, and challenging and sadly, still as relevant today as it was when Bennett first wrote it. But this is not a tragic tale! because we are not those sort of people. No matter that there is a chip in our sugar, we will soldier on like the troopers we are!

It plays until Sat 10th March.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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