Theatre Review: Talking Heads

By Julia Parry | 23rd January 2017


Yapham Village Hall (splendid though it is!) is not your usual theatrical setting, but on 21 January it played host to The Library Theatre Touring Company and their stunning production of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ taken from the larger series of dramatic monologues of satirical tragi-comedies.

The village hall was packed with people from all around the parish, an impressive seventy tickets sold! We were treated to a virtuoso performance from Deborah Kelly who inhabited two very different women completely and convincingly. She enthralled the audience by first becoming Miss Irene Ruddock in ‘A Lady of Letters’ then Susan, an alcoholic vicar’s wife in ‘Bed Among the Lentils’.

‘A Lady of Letters’ introduces us to a lonely, middle aged spinster whose only friend is her ‘Platignum’ pen. She uses it to write numerous judgemental, spiteful letters of criticism. Her actions escalate out of control and eventually she finds herself in prison living with the type of people she has always judged. Irene had spent many years trapped in her lonely existence revelling in picking fault with everyone around her.

By the end of the monologue, Irene is happy and hopeful for her future for the first time in her life. She is living with prisoners who have committed heinous crimes but she has dramatically changed, the judgemental side of her has disappeared and she has been shown how to use her pen positively.

The pathos and dark humour of the piece both delights and shocks in equal measures. Deborah Kelly brilliantly portrays Irene, subtly changing her accent and tone by the various letters and situations she describes. The audience are led to feel sympathetic then hatred then pity for the character throughout the performance, with the satisfying conclusion of hope for her future as Irene’s genuine happiness infects the room.


In ‘Bed Among the Lentils’ we meet Susan, a lonely alcoholic wife of a vicar. She explains the story of her alcoholism and subsequent rehabilitation. Throughout the early part of the performance Susan is sipping a large glass of whisky while talking, only as she explains the situations she finds herself in does it become obvious that her drinking is a serious problem.

Susan is trapped in a sterile marriage to a popular vicar who has a loyal band of female parishioners fawning over him: she describes them brilliantly with acerbic, witty one-liners. Hilariously funny comments on their various sex lives have the audience in stitches. She despises her narrow, unfulfilled existence which she feels obliged to endure as the wife of a vicar. She finds solace in alcohol but finds it increasingly difficult to hide her dependency, the local shop will no longer serve her because of her mounting debt to them. Susan finds an Asian grocery store further away in Leeds to feed her need. Here she meets Ramesh, an attractive young Hindu shopkeeper. Soon they are having sex among the sacks of lentils.

By the end of the piece, beautifully told with a sharp, observant eye for the ridiculous characters around her we are no clearer as to where Susan will go next. She is still a vicar’ s wife and now also the subject of his sermons all around the diocese which she takes on along with all the other burdens of responsibility she secretly carries. The vicar has taken all the credit for her rehabilitation but she holds a deep satisfaction for her secret knowledge that he is wrong and it is actually her illicit affair that is the beginning of her salvation.

The audience were delighted to have such a prestigious event at Yapham Village Hall: let’s hope there will be many more to come.

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