An evening of compelling ordinariness


Stephanie Cole as Doris. Cole, incidentally, played Muriel in Soldiering on in the first series of Talking Heads on BBC TV in 1988.

Talking Heads

Malvern Festival Theatre


ALAN Bennett’s series of monologues were originally created for television but were subsequently adapted for the stage with great success.

He introduces us to some quaint indiviMiss Ruddockduals who reveal both their characters and their stories in a wistful, endearing manner.

There is an ordinariness about them, a quality we can identify with in their everyday humanness, along with a certain unique individuality which creates an amusing but endearing response in us as we hear them uncovering their world.

The first of the three offered at Malvern this week is entitled Lady of Letters. Miss Ruddock is a single woman who watches and comments on the world around her by writing innumerable letters to all and sundry.

For instance she writes to the manager of the crematorium to complain about the atmosphere there and the smokers hanging around outside. The atmosphere is ‘brisk’ and not ‘reverent’. Eventually she goes too far and ends up in prison wherein she surprisingly finds a measure of freedom.

Siobhan Redmond as the letter writing Mrs Ruddock commenting upon the world around her

The tone is gently ironic. Siobhan Redmond interprets this character with wonderful timing and subtle inflexions and her voice has great clarity. It is a sensitive and amusing performance.

The second character we meet is Graham Whittaker in A chip in the sugar. He is a rather pathetic individual who still lives with his mother, but whose life and relationship with her is interrupted when mother meets an old flame called Frank. This intrusion unsettles Graham who comments on the relationships and situation sardonically.

He repeats a lot of dialogue in his narration. We are left aware, as with the characters in the two other monologues, of a certain sadness and loneliness in his world.

Karl Theobald performs the role with effective pace, again great clarity and poignancy, and holds our attention with the wistfulness and sadness of his life.

The final monologue is from the character of Doris in A cream cracker under the setee. Doris is 75, she has a carer who calls to help her cope in her home and stave off the day when she has to move into an old people’s home.

However she has slipped while trying to dust the top of a picture on the wall and hurt her leg. She cannot get up and move around properly because of her injury and she is like a beached whale struggling to exist or get help.

In her obsession with cleanliness and hygiene she spots the cream cracker under the settee which gives the piece its name. Eventually she devours it to quell the pangs of hunger she is experiencing.

Once again Bennett achieves a brilliant mixture of wit aGrahamnd pathos. Doris is herself able to see the irony in her situation, she comments on her own life with humour and insight, but in the end we are moved by her helplessness and isolation.

Stephanie Cole is brilliant in her delivery and performance of this part. She avoids undue self-pity and wins the audience with her humour and the sincerity of her performance. It provides a moving climax to the evening.

Karl Theobald as the lonely, troubled Graham Whittaker afraid of losing his mother to her old flame

The plays are located in a set that is adapted for the three plays. The interiors are somewhat stark and severe, the lighting is cleverly designed to create atmosphere and highlight the passage of time, the music is somewhat haunting and underlines some of the sadder themes of isolation and loneliness that the pieces explore.

Overall it is a sophisticated piece of theatre that was greatly enjoyed by the audience who were predominantly mature in years. It requires some concentration as the format of listening to a single performer for a long period of time is demanding, three times in the same evening. It is however a subtle and witty evening performed to a high standard by very experienced and skilled actors. To Saturday, 29 August.

Timothy Crow


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