Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Talking Heads

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre Studio, Worcester


MONOLOGUES are as old as Western theatre itself, the earliest dramas staged by the ancient Greeks with one actor and a chorus and, more than two millennia on, it is still a powerful dramatic device.

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads for BBC TV, sgrahamix in 1988 and another six a decade later, were a landmark in the genre, included in GCSE and A level syllabuses; a single actor speaking directly to the camera about what, in truth, is often mundane trivia.

But it is familiar mundane trivia, attitudes, ideas, people, relatives we know.

Graham Whittaker is what in my youth used to be called a mummy’s boy. Middle-aged, mild-mannered, inoffensive and living with his mother, tidying, cleaning cooking, taking a sort of comfort in a life of dull routine.

John Lines as Graham whose world is being turned upside down by his mother's old flame

We discover, slowly, that his repressed homosexuality is bottled up inside and he went to a day centre because he suffers mild mental problems – his mother seeing his tablets as the solution to any problem.

In A chip in the sugar Graham’s ordinary life is thrown into disarray when his mother meets an old flame, Frank Turnbull and romance blossoms, with Graham becoming increasingly jealous. It all comes to a head when Frank not only proposes marriage but suggests that Graham, who he is slowly pushing away from his mother, should move out and live in a hostel. To add to Graham’s anxiety, he has also become paranoid that someone is watching him from the street outside.

John Lines is a thoroughly convincing Graham relating his tale of trouble with unwitting gentle humour and a creditable Yorkshire accent. He shows no signs of happiness or even contentment, just acceptance of his lot in life and frustration and fear of the upheaval. His mother is getting ready for her honeymoon in Teneriffe and his life is unravelling - until he discovers Mr Turnbull’s terrible secret and he reveals it in gleeful triumph.

The bombshell ends the Turnbull romance of course, and the status quo is restored; mum’s spark of romance and chance of happiness in her twilight years has been snuffed out and Graham is once more the dutiful son with the pair clinging once more to each other and their mundane routine.

Her big chance introduces us to Lesley, a wannabe actress. She has had a few TV roles as an extra in programmes such as Crossroads and was and extra in a Roman Polanski film but the bigLesley break has never arrived – until she lands, or perhaps more accurately, tumbles into the part of Travis in a German low budget production set on a yacht.

She plays the girlfriend of a baddie, shooting him with a speargun in the dramatic finale. Lesley, not the brightest star in the industry, doesn’t seem to realise that she is in a soft porn film, perhaps she is just too desperate to be an actress.

Gerda Tvaronaitė as wannabe actress Lesley

We hear her arguments against her character Travis first going topless, then after being given motivation for that, we hear the same arguments again for the bikini bottoms coming off, with Guther, the director, once more providing the motivation that nakedness somehow signifies contempt for her drug running boyfriend. Even the fact the half-naked policemen in the death scene touches her up before heading off to be filmed in bed with his girlfriend she rationalises as some sort of morality tale that it is best to be with the one you love.

Gerda Tvaronaitė brings an added dimension to the role. Hailing from Lithuania she is a student of screenwriting and journalism at Worcester University and it took a while to attune to her accent

It is not easy to perform at all in a foreign language but to take on a long monologue commanding the stage in a solo performance takes real courage and she did a sterling job – particularly as a bout of laryngitis had disrupted rehearsals for the past couple of weeks.

Then there was Doris and A Cream cracker under the settee, Dorisleft there by that home help Zulema who only half cleans no matter what she says. It was cleaning what Zulema had never finished that caused the fall. Doris is 75 and house proud, not that she can do much these days. She’s a widow since her husband Wilfred died. You suspect he might have been glad to go to escape the constant nagging. Her constant fear is being moved the Stafford House the local care home where everyone and everything “smells of pee”.  

Ruth Butler is Doris, frightened of going into a home, but hardly able to cope alone

The fall has left her unable to walk, no doubt she has suffered a broken hip or pelvis, and alone and injured she tries to attract attention. She finally reaches the front door and a chance of help, but help might mean being sent to Stafford House and its smell of pee – so dying alone and in pain does not seem such a bad option after all.

Ruth Butler, another with a more than passable Northern accent, shows us a Doris full of contradictions, missing her Wilfred yet complaining he never mended the gate, complaining about Zulema yet realising it is the only thing keeping her out of Stafford House amid a slow resignation of her fate as her injury takes its toll.

Marc Dugmore, the director has used a simple set, with minor changes for each of the three stories which works well in the intimate studio atmosphere. Beautifully written and well-acted the talking heads are well worth a listen. To 16-04-16.

Roger Clarke


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