Alan Bennett is a British born playwright who gained fame as a writer and performer in the 1960s in Beyond The Fringe alongside performers like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. As a playwright both his History Boys and The Madness of King George have been made in to major feature films. Amongst his many works he wrote a series of dramatic monologues called “Talking Heads” that are presented in alternating programs of three each. Long and I went to see the first in the series which was staged in the historic Campbell House, an 1882 mansion that served as a lovely yet unusual setting for a dramatic work.
As this was Long’s suggestion I had done little research and was unaware of what to expect. Having the three monologues played out in the rooms of a house created an air of murder mystery theatre and the subject matter did little to dissipate the sense of menace. The Talking Heads in question were Marjory, Wilfred and Irene. Each character told their own peculiar tale unfolded over time with the dimming of lights and enhanced by some sparse but well placed sound effects. I will endeavour not to reveal too much of the plot of each story lest anyone wish to see the show themselves but in each case it is apparent that things are not as they seem at first glance.
After the assembled audience had milled about in the foyer, drinking hot cider and eating store bought cookies we were ushered in to the dining area which was set up facing the parlour with rows of wooden chairs. We were introduced to the first Talking Head. Marjory, played by Naomi Wright; was a tightly wound neat freak who used her domestic routine as a means to maintain control over her world, including her husband Stewart and his beloved dog Tina, whom Marjory loathed. As time progressed we realized all was not well in Marjory’s world and she struggled to maintain a sense of order through her tidying as she was forced to cede authority to the community, her husband and even the dog as the true nature of Stewart’s nocturnal walks was revealed.
After a brief intermission we went to the basement which was set up to look like a park . Here we met Wilfred, the much-praised maintenance man in a public garden. As his story unfolds we learned that Wilfred, despite being easily the more sympathetic character of the three presented, is in fact the most irredeemably damaged.
The third Talking Head was Irene, played by Alex Dallas. We met Irene Ruddock as she was drinking tea and spying on the neighbours from an upstairs bedroom in the home. Irene was the neighbourhood busy body, quick to pass judgement on all she saw and quicker still write letters to her MP, the police, the pharmacist – everyone she could, to remedy the social ills she saw around her. Her abrasive nature led her to a place where she presented a palpable menace and was punished for her ways.
The director of the three monologues, one John Shooter described them as “acute mini tragedies that dig deep into the human psyche and take you on a journey that may be dark and moving one minute, but comic and wonderfully uplifting the next”. I don’t know if I can honestly say I was wonderfully uplifted but they were certainly well acted and in a unique environment. I will be thinking about them for some time to come.