Playwright Alan Bennett is perhaps best known in this country for his adaptation of the film The Madness of King George, but he is in fact extremely prolific as a television writer in addition to his numerous plays and screenplays. Talking Heads was originally conceived for British television and consists of three one-person one-act plays. Each play addresses alienation in society, and the manner in which we dull our senses to hide the troubling realities of our lives. Director Michael Beckett encouraged the actors to delve fearlessly into their characters' inner lives, exposing their inner demons.
The first - and weakest - play, Her Big Chance, chronicles the progress of Lesley, a likable, but essentially amoral young actress, as she goes from one sleazy film project to the next, each time convincing herself that this role (or an affair with this particular director) will make her a star. Burdened with a script containing many now-dated sexual cliches, Julie Ann Wright managed to bring warmth and empathy to the emotionally vacuous Lesley, but her American accent detracted from many of Bennett's clever British expressions.
Bed Among the Lentils introduces Susan, a neglected vicar's wife, whose frustration with the smallness of her life in a remote English parish has driven her to alcoholism. Sensitive and romantic, Susan ultimately finds acceptance and a sexual awakening with a young Indian man, who encourages her to come clean about her drinking. In a poignant final scene, Susan addresses her AA group, and although she has given up alcohol, she confesses that the rituals she confronts in AA are as limiting and stultifying as her duties in the church.
Patricia Dodd was brilliant as the sensitive, free-spirited Susan, in a heartbreaking performance informed by a glittering intelligence and intuitive knowledge of the character's complex inner life.
The final play, A Chip in the Sugar, reveals the pitiable life of Graham, a closeted homosexual man, who lives with his elderly mother. Although Graham resents being responsible for his mother, who is senile, his existence is threatened when she hooks up with an old flame and announces her intention to get married, forcing Graham to leave his home. When the fiance turns out to be married already, Graham is relieved to resume the life he thought he detested. Christopher Flavell's sensitive rendering of the repressed Graham was beautifully restrained, revealing the loneliness of a man with no place to be himself.
The uncredited set consisted of black flats and a few pieces of furniture, which took an interminable amount of time to be moved around during the scene changes. The first two plays were overlit, creating an aura around the actors against the black background. The costumes, also uncredited, were simple and appropriate for the characters.
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern