Talking Heads - Theatre Review

The Progress Theatre once again push the boundaries of amateur theatre in presenting Alan Bennett’s series of monologues, Talking Heads.

In an intimate theatre setting, Talking Heads strips away any other characters on which to focus, leaving one actor to hold the attention of the audience.

The first story, “Her Big Chance” introduces us to Lesley. A struggling actor with a grand creative vision. When we first meet Lesley, she teeters on being completely pretentious; a background artist, eager to offer “helpful” suggestions to the director and fixated with the memory of a bit part in Crossroads. As Lesley tells us of her starring role in a new feature film – a potential avenue into her dream life as a successful actor – the depth of the character is unveiled.

Emma Sterry is wonderful in her portrayal of Lesley and gives what feels like a very personal performance. Whilst conveying her bravado, Emma also exposes Lesley’s naivety – persuading the audience to feel for the brash character by the end of the story.

The second monologue, “A Chip in the Sugar”, features the character of Graham – a middle-aged man who lives with and cares for his elderly mother Vera. Grahams tells us how his mother – possibly his only friend – has a chance encounter with Frank; an old flame who has the potential to turn Graham’s relationship with his mother upside down.

Richard Tripp’s portrayal of Graham is beautifully touching – he clearly shows the selfish side of the character yet brings his vulnerability to the fore. As we hear how Vera and Frank’s relationship is progressing, the audience is left wondering who has really been the carer – and hoping that Graham’s bubble remains intact.

The third and final monologue, “A Cream Cracker Under the Settee”, introduces Doris - unable to get up following a fall, she reflects on events and relationships throughout her life; her friends, loved ones and personal tragedies. In spite of being frail and living alone, Doris is determined not to move into a home.

Liz Carroll’s interpretation of Doris is outstanding and one of the most compelling performances I’ve seen. Every line, every pause is delivered with hard hitting honesty. Liz pulls the audience through a full range of emotions, as she conveys Doris’s fond memories, her sadness over the loss of loved ones and the bitter realisation of what her future holds.

Under Glynn Oram’s direction, the complexities of the characters and humour of Bennett’s dialogue are fully explored. Each of the monologues shows us an outwardly strong minded character, yet Glynn draws the audience in by giving the opportunity for reflection. Real feelings of fragility and loneliness are exposed, and the characters unknowingly deliver humorous lines with perfect timing.

An authentic set and wardrobe transport you right back to the 80’s and compliment the dialogue well. Graham’s outfit in particular, and use of an authentic looking 80’s teaset, really sets off his character as he enjoys a rather horrible looking fish paste sandwich. The production is complimented by acoustic twists on well-loved songs and lighting that emphasises some of the characters darker moments.

Talking Heads is a must see; beautifully moving, compelling and highly funny to boot.

Progress Theatre perform Talking Heads from Monday 20th to Saturday 25th April. Tickets are priced £10 + booking fee, concessions available.

(c) 2015 Louise Quelch

reviewed 16/04/2015 19.45
The Progress Theatre, Reading Monday 20/04/2015 – Saturday 25/04/2015

Lesley – Emma Sterry
Graham – Richard Tripp
Doris – Liz Carroll

Playwright – Alan Bennett
Director – Glynn Oram
Producer – Caroline Sketchley
Stage Manager – Eva Marchetti
Assistant Stage Managers – Emily Goode, Caroline Sketchley
Set & Props Design – Glynn Oram
Set Construction – Laurence Stevens, Stefano Pietrosanti, Cast & Crew
Lighting Design – Chris Rothwell
Sound Design – Glynn Oram
Lighting & Sound Operation – Chris Rothwell, Glynn Oram
Costumes – Glynn Oram and Cast

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