Monday , 16 May 2022

Talking Heads – monologues through time

Alan Bennett

Talking Heads, a show made up of monologues written by Alan Bennett, set for television in the late 80’s, was revived at the Mitchell Theater in Glasgow between Wednesday 30th July and Saturday 2nd August. Each viewing of the show consisted of two monologues from A Chip In The Sugar, A Cream Cracker Under The Settee, Bed Among the Lentils and Her Big Chance.

The roles were played by four of Scotland’s own actors. The two monologues seen by KaleidoScot journalist Jonathan James Leslie were A Chip in the Sugar and A Cream Cracker under the Settee.

The monologues in A Chip in the Sugar were performed by Ross Stenhouse, and brought the audience to tears of laughter. Graham Whittaker, a withdrawn  middle-aged homosexual with a history of mild mental health problems, starts to question everything when Frank Turnbull, a man from his mother’s past, just wanders into their lives. Graham grows envious of the relationship blossoming between Frank and his mother, and even more so when he hears of their engagement and Frank’s plans for Graham to move out of the house and into a hostel. Mr Turnbull, however, is hiding something, and upon finding out, Graham takes the new-found information to his mother, whose hopes of finding love are dashed as Graham is settled back into his comfort zone.

The wry comedy covers the complex issues around Graham Whittaker in a relatable and humorous take on his ‘midlife crisis’. The realistic dialogue makes it seem as if you are having a conversation with the character himself; all your questions are answered accordingly and appropriately with his responses to certain events. The character of Graham’s mother, although not appearing in the production, is disappointed and adopts the attitude that a woman of her age cannot find love anymore. The monologues run for 35 minutes, and although this may seem quick, they are not rushed and are thorough. Filled with details of Graham’s thoughts, the monologues flow at an easy pace. We learn that Graham is a selfish man whose self importance affects the lives of those around him, especially that of his mother.

The lighting of the production creates a realistic atmosphere and a comfortable ambiance within the theater. The music played through the presentation sets the time frame very well and makes it feel for the audience as if they are back in the 80’s. The set, the music and the lighting effectively enable suspension of disbelief.

A Cream Cracker Under the Settee is a set of monologues told by Dorris, an elderly woman and a ‘neat freak’ who is unhappy with her home-helper, Zulema. Dorris takes it upon herself to see that the house is cleaned properly. She suffers a nasty fall from her buffet, resulting in a numb leg. When her condition grows worse she tries to get to the window to call for help and, when hearing the voice of a policeman through the letterbox, she sends him away telling him that she is fine. Dorris expresses how she feels about the women in “care homes” and how they “smell of pee”. We learn throughout the monologues that Dorris and her nagging may have been the cause of her late husband’s early demise.

The 35 minute comedy brings a smile to the audience’s faces as Dorris tells each story and describes how her late husband was always making plans and “putting them on the list.” Dorris changes, over the pieces, from a self-sufficient stubborn elderly woman of 75, to someone who feels absolutely helpless in her situation, stuck in her living room wishing she could be washed and in her bathrobe. The message sent out by these monologues is that although we might feel independent, sometimes we should stand up to our independent nature and accept that we need help, even if we think it isn’t good enough. The comic drama is definitely a catch for people of all ages and all walks of life, with its relatable scenarios and character. Everybody has a “Dorris” in their lives. The realistic dialogue creates an understanding between the character and the audience, bringing them emotionally closer.

The lighting for “A Cream Cracker Under the Settee” creates a warm atmosphere, with the welcoming feel you would often get in an elderly person’s home. The pace of the production is not too fast and creates a sense of nostalgia, bringing you back into the 80’s. The music and set also help to create a ‘classic home’ from the 1980’s, with the music creating a calm and comforting mood and the set creating a realistic ‘homey’ feel.

About Jonathan James Leslie

Jonathan James Leslie is a young journalist who enjoys writing about current LGBT affairs and events, he also regularly writes about home improvement, technology, traveling, health and food. Aside from journalism, Jonathan has had careers in both the hospitality and IT industries, Jonathan started working as a chef at the young age of fifteen and gained a good deal of knowledge surrounding food and health. Jonathan has also worked as a junior web developer giving him a reasonable understanding of technology and programming. Jonathan does however, also write short stories and is currently in the process of writing a gay-themed novel trilogy. He also enjoys spending time surfing Tumblr. He is also a freelancer, who writes blog posts and articles online. Outside the world of work, Jonathan is often seen around the bars in Glasgow, with his partner who is a chef.

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  1. “A Cream Cracker under the Settee” is played out as a monologue by Doris ( Thora Hird ), a seventy-five-year-old woman who is a widow, following her slip off a pouffe (pronounced ‘buffet’ in the play). Her disapproval of home-helper Zulema’s cleaning leads her to attempt to clean a picture of her and Wilfred, her late husband, and subsequently her fall. Her position, now suffering from a “numby” leg, gives her natural desire to find help. Thus she moves from her position on a chair, to the floor near where she fell, and finally to the front door of her house. An exhausted Doris drags herself back to the living room after failing to get help from the front door. Eventually she hears the voice of a policeman, asking if she is all right because – unusually – her lights are off. Instead of asking for his help she lets him leave after telling him she was napping. It is assumed by the situation, and by the fact that the conclusions to Bennett’s plays are typically bleak, that Doris later dies. Throughout the monologue she discusses past issues and events in her life, characters and situations. Use of juxtaposition of humour and sadness is used frequently by Alan Bennett, as it is in many of the Talking Heads monologues to great effect. Such effects include the interaction of passing time. The televised monologue gives the impression of a dark evening as the end of her life is suggested; the passing of time reflecting the passing of her life. Furthermore, the moving from the relatively comfy position of her chair – where she is sitting at the start – possibly indicates the movement from a secure and comfy position in life to her current situation. Issues such as treatment of the aged, growing old and life choices are constantly discussed throughout the monologue.
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