Talking Heads will set tongues wagging

Review by Paul Nelson

AFTER what seems to me a lifetime in the wilderness, though on looking back through my diary it was only the last two plays I witnessed, my life took a change for the better at the Studio Theatre in Wimbledon. I dropped in to see Talking Heads, three beautifully constructed monologues, directed and acted with an artistry that these days really should be the norm in the theatre but is sadly, rare.

Author Alan Bennett really is the thinking man's (and template for) Victoria Wood. Whereas she will get a laugh by mentioning the name of a well-known product, and with her, it would probably be an intimate item women use, Bennett usually eschews the name of the product, but nevertheless gets all the humour by skirting round the brand name. A tea bag for instance, not in itself amusing, but hilarious when handled by such a master.

It is the difference between the artist and the arriviste.

This is nit-picking in the extreme I know, but it illustrates the minutiae that Bennett examines to get the most of the humour possible out of a situation.

All you need when given these scripts is a sensitive and clever performer (accent on sensitive), a director whose skill matches his judgement and something pretty to look at.

You get all these three with bells on in the production at the Studio.

Of the original six plays, the Studio production has centred on three, A Chip In The Sugar, Her Big Chance and Bed Among The Lentils, in retrospect a wise choice.

Starting with A Chip In The Sugar, Larry Dann takes us on a whirlwind trip to nowhere as he recounts his view of his mother's affair with one Frank Turnbull. Though Graham is a repressed homosexual, he hardly lets the façade slip, except when his future is threatened by the possibility of a marriage between his mother and Turnbull. There is, however, no bitchiness in him and Mr Dann gives what can only be called a real performance of a real person. It is a performance that is worth the evening all by itself, but Larry Dann is not alone.

Camilla Simson as Lesley in Her Big Chance presents us with another gem. This little airhead is the sort of 'actress' who reaches the stars by merely looking at them from her prone position. Unlike Graham she lives what she thinks is a full life, and it is up to us to define what an empty world she inhabits, for she thinks her world is sublime. She is in fact meat for any stage manager as she pursues the big producer or director to further her career. Needless to say, the producers wouldn't look at her. Another superb performance.

With what seems like an impossible act to follow, Lynn Farleigh takes to the stage with the third character. I have to lay my cards on the table here and point out that this is my favourite play of the chosen three so I may be biased. As Susan, the alcoholic wife of an ambitious vicar, Lynn Farleigh had me in stitches throughout her play. At no time playing against the lines, or playing it for laughs (a trait all three performers followed incidentally), her intense sincerity cracked me up time and time again.

After her affair with Ramesh Ramesh from the corner shop is over, he having gone back to Asia, we are still left with Mrs Vicar, the woman with the sarcastic view of life, who, having lost her faith has gained composure, and though her observations are not of themselves funny, her view of the world as told to us, is.

It can only be the director Paul Jerricho who drew these plays together so surely. Each is entirely different, each is a star vehicle, and each makes us laugh in its separate and entirely different way. It must also surely be Paul Jerricho who made the decision to play the three with deep sincerity, and of course it is that which makes the evening perfect.

Jerricho is no stranger to this reviewer, I recall some years ago travelling to Highbury Corner to see his production of a Chekhov play. It is peanuts for me to travel to Wimbledon but I must put on record that it would be worth going to John O'Groats to see one of his productions.

The three plays present an evening of superb entertainment. It would probably do Alan Bennett a bit of good if he went along to see them.

Talking Heads by Alan Bennett. Directed by Paul Jerricho, Designer Vikie Le Sache, Lighting Design by Roger Frith, Music composed by Anders Sodergren. WITH Larry Dann (Graham in A Chip In The Sugar), Camilla Simson (Lesley in Her Big Chance), Lynn Farleigh (Susan in Bed Among The Lentils). A Wimbledon Studio Theatre Production supported by Friends of Wimbledon Theatre, presented at Wimbledon Studio Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon 020 8540 0362.