Performed 27th to 30th Jan 2010
WHAT better start to the weekend than with a night with tears and laughter in equal abundance? Well that's what audiences got this weekend at Riding Mill Drama Group's production of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. The society had chosen a selection of four of the six monologues from the series, but due to a licensing quirk, were only able to perform three on any given night. On Friday, the audience was treated to A Lady of Letters A Cream Cracker under the Settee and A Chip in the Sugar. But before the night even began, the audience already had something to be impressed about, in the shape of the newly refurbished parish hall. An airy glass entrance area made an ideal foyer, allowing the space to be warmly welcomed and shown through to your seats by the waiting front of house staff. The area also meant the audience had somewhere to retire to in the intervals to use the facilities and purchase refreshments. But, back to the drama, and the main reason why most people had come along. The evening opened with Hazel Osmond’s portrayal of Irene in A Lady of Letters'.
This monologue looks at the lonely life of a spinster, who lands herself in prison after a barrage of abusive letters to local people and organisations. Hazel, along with her fellow actors, put on a commendable Yorkshire accent for the piece, Bennett being a Yorkshireman himself. The monologues are often presented in this way. Her disdain at the new neighbours, who couldn't even put a cloth on the tea table, was expertly expressed from the curl of her nose to the lift of her eyebrow. The pauses in her delivery were perfectly timed to maximise both the comic effect of some lines whilst marking the poignancy of others. An audible stillness fell upon the audience as Irene disclosed the death of a child, whom she had assumed was suffering neglect. But she was swift in providing comic relief and the audience was soon back in humorous mood as she rattled off how happy she had become now she was in prison. All the monologues were interspersed with music to allow for breaks and scene changes or alterations where necessary and in A Lady of Letters the choice of Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles really resonated with the audience, who felt Irene's pain at being one of so many “lonely people" in life.
Next up after an interval, in which this reviewer won the raffle prize of stamps, cream crackers and a bag of sugar, was A Cream Cracker under the Settee. A personal favourite of mine, this monologue has fewer deliberately funny lines and is a more emotional look at how old age and isolation can affect a person. Doris, played by April Joslin, made a good old woman who, determined to keep her independence, falls while trying to dust the picture rail. She impersonated her nemesis, the cleaner Zulema, with a good foreign accent and got several laughs from the audience in the jokes about Zulema's apparent aversion to proper cleaning.
Doris represents traditional values and April showed her passion and belief in those values in her face, contrasting that with the shock and disgust with which she addressed the boy ‘spending a penny' in her garden. Her pain was only too apparent, both the physical at having injured herself and the emotional at having given birth to a still-born child. The raw emotion on display was heartfelt and brought more than just one tear to the eye for many audience members. And for the final piece, the task fell to Ian Johnston to play Graeme, in A Chip in the Sugar. This Freudian piece looks at the close relationship between one man and his mother and the underlying issues of mental illness and homosexuality. Ian's performance was charged with meaning in his understated delivery of Graeme's oft repeated retort “I didn't say anything." He could have done with being a little more on edge when he kept checking for house watchers at the window but otherwise his performance was good. Neither as funny as Irene or as sad as Doris, Graeme was probably the most difficult character to portray on the night but it was a job well done by Ian, who drew plenty of laughs from the audience especially in his rendition of Mam discussing religion with the vicar. All three actors did a magnificent job of learning each monologue with the oh-so-important dramatic pauses timed exactly right for maximum effect in all three pieces. The sets were well thought out and their simplicity complemented rather than drew attention away from the words and characters themselves. Bravo, is all that is left to say.
Rebecca Dixon Hexham Courant
First Hexham Courant Story 22 Jan 2010
RIDING Mill Drama Club present Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads at the newly refurbished parish hall next week. The society had to postpone the production at short notice in November when the builders working on the hall refurbishment announced work would not be finished in time. Club president Anne Lawrence said: “It was very disappointing because this production is part of our 6oth anniversary celebrations and we had been assured the hall would be ready. “We had purposely picked Talking Heads to do at that time because there isn’t much of a set and there aren’t very many people involved. “Once we knew we couldn’t go ahead, we had a break until after Christmas and started rehearsing again in January.” The club has selected four of the Talking Heads monologues to per- form: A Lady of Letters, A Chip in the Sugar; Bed Among the Lentils and A Cream Cracker under the Settee. Unexpected problems arose with the choice of monologues and Anne said: “We hadn’t realised when we chose them that Alan Bennett will only license three monologues to be performed on any one night, but we had already started rehearsing them at that point so we had to implement a rotation system to fit all four in.” Performing the monologues is a real departure for the society, and Anne added: “The actors have all worked so hard; doing a monologue means you are Very exposed on stage.” She has directed A Cream Cracker under the Settee and has been working alongside two fellow directors, Eileen Davidson and Ian Lockey. Anne said: “We rehearse alone but you have to meet up every now and then to maintain, some sort of cohesion between the pieces.” And despite the obvious temptation, neither Anne nor her actress, April Joslin, has watched the television adaptation of their monologue. Anne said: “I wanted to let my own creativity work before I saw the TV version, because it is difficult to for- get something once you’ve seen it. “April hasn’t watched it at all either, so her performance is totally her own and not influenced by Thora Hird who played it for the TV version.” The rest of the cast line-up is as follows: Irene in A Lady of Letters Hazel Osmond; Graeme in A Chip in the Sugar - Ian Johnston; Susan in Bed Among the Lentils - Jean Buckley. Performances run from January 27 to 30, tickets are available from Anne by calling ###, or on the door, subject to availability.