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posted/updated: 31 Jul 2012 -
Talking Heads (Bed Among the Lentils, Her Big Chance and Soldiering On)
Alan Bennett
society/company: Lighted Fools Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 27 Jul 2012
venue: Riverhouse, Manor Road, Walton-on-Thames KT12 2PF
reviewer/s: Brittany Rex (Sardines review)

Many Brits are probably already familiar with "Talking Heads", which Alan Bennett originally wrote for BBC television in the late 1980's. Several of the instalments instantly became cult classics. With that in mind, Lighted Fools Theatre Company face the difficult task of making these speeches stage worthy as they were devised for the confessional privacy of a television camera.
Fortunately, director Richard Parish has managed to successfully stage three of the monologues for women; "Soldiering On" heart-warmingly delivered by Karen Sahlsberg (Muriel), "Her Big Chance" performed by the delightfully funny Karen Brooks (Lesley), and "A Bed Among the Lentils" superbly acted by Caroline Dooley (Susan). Presented in three 35 minutes chunks, ''Talking Heads'' provides a perfectly pleasant evening of entertainment. All three monologues are brilliantly modulated and epitomise English exercises in dramatic irony. Raise the actors' voices, literally or figuratively, and you risk turning them from complex character studies into ludicrous caricatures.

For Bennett aficionados, Sahlsberg perhaps has the hardest speech to deliver of the three. In "Soldiering On'', we meet Muriel, a stoic and initially wealthy widow. Dealing with the aftermath of her husband's death, Muriel relates the entire funeral wistfully, as if it were a conversation over afternoon tea. While the monologue started off a bit low in energy, Sahlsberg managed to pick up the pace and emotion through the escalating disaster of the final two scenes. While her circumstances crumble around her, Muriel 'soldiers on'. She manages her mentally ill daughter with endurance and naively accepts her son ruining her financially. Finally, she is reduced to living in a bed-sit outside town. Sahlsberg gives Muriel dignity, determination and warmth. Although she cannot bear to be seen as tragic, we feel for her the frustration and rage to which she refuses to succumb.

Portraying an ardent actress in ''Her Big Chance,'' Karen Brooks charmingly recalls the events leading up to her big break in a West German skinflick. Her bubbly energy is infectious and she had us laughing all the way through. The actress must be commended for her comedic timing and naive portrayal of Lesley; it was clear that the character did not fully understand what she was getting herself into. Brooks also displays great naturalness on stage. During the opening scene she made preparing and eating breakfast look easy, although I can assure you this is anything but! Her delivery was spot on and she seemed to be right at home on stage. I also thoroughly believed her portrayal of the men in her life: Nigel, Gunter and Alfredo...I hope to see more good things from Brooks in future.

Caroline Dooley has the job of following Dame Maggie Smith's immortal interpretation of ''Bed Among the Lentils.'' Dooley's performance is quite simply, everything you could wish it to be. Susan's role as an alcoholic vicar's wife is made immediately clear through her idiolect. She creates a lovely arrangement of descriptions of the people in her life, from Geoffrey to Mrs. Frobisher. Even though she mocks the church on many occasions it is obvious that it is a major part of her life by her use of quite obscure references from the Bible. Dooley takes her character through a maze of seemingly everyday events that somehow lead her into uncharted, exotic, lustful territory. She is utterly captivating, watchable and memorable. The actress could certainly take this 'hobby' into the professional realm if she so wishes.

Credit must certainly be given to the director for providing us with a slick and well performed showcase of monologues. It was evident that the actors were in their director's capable hands from start to finish. The set was simple but served well in providing three distinct areas for each of the characters to inhabit their world. The lighting was particularly effective with the use of a variety of window shape gobos, each perfectly suited to the character and location of the speeches.

Next up from Lighted Fools is Arthur Miller's The Price, performing at The Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford from Thursday 18th to Saturday 20th April 2013.

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