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Criterion Theatre
Talking Heads (2013)
Written by Alan Bennett
Sat 2nd February to Sat 9th February
Director – Bill Butler
Production Photos
Irene – Chris Ingall
Susan – Cathryn Bowler
Doris – Annie Woodward
Set paint – Louise Bagley
Stage Manager – Dave Crisp
Wardrobe – Sara Farmanfarmai
Wardrobe – Lucy Hayton
Wardrobe – Maureen Liggins
Props – Frances Dixon
Lighting – Ian Knight
Sound – Dave Cornish
Lighting – Karl Stafford
Lighting – Simon Sharpe
Sound – Adam Bodycote
Wardrobe – Jane Railton
Props – Jackie Crisp
Props – Sally Patalong
Props – Judy Sharpe
Set build – Simon Sharpe
Set build – Judy Sharpe
Set build – Pete Bagley
Set build – Terry Rahilly
Set build – Frances Dixon
Set build – Mike Tooley
Set build – Kevin Woods
Set paint – Judy Talbot
Set Design – Simon Sharpe
The Programme
The Play
Performances from February 2nd to 9th 2013, directed by Bill Butler.

Three monologues from the enormously successful series each in its own way reflecting Alan Bennett’s marvellously observant view of the British way of life. They are touching and real, and very funny.

Christine Ingall plays Irene in "A Lady of Letters" Miss Ruddock writes letters — not, unfortunately, social communications filled with harmless news, but letters of complaint, comment and, occasionally, officious praise to various businesses and government departments. After one too many accusations of misconduct from Irene's pen she is brought to book with surprising results.

Cathryn Bowler plays Susan in "A Bed Among the Lentils" Susan is a failure when it comes to jam-making and flower-arranging and isn't at all sure about God; how unfortunate for her that she is married to Geoffrey, a popular and respected vicar who treats her in an intensely patronizing manner and expects her to conform to her role as vicar's wife.

Annie Woodward plays Doris in "A Cream Cracker under the Settee" Doris, a widow, lives alone. Refusing to relinquish her independence, she surreptitiously cleans when her home help, Zulema, is absent. When we meet her, she has just fallen over whilst attempting to dust a picture frame high on the wall. The day goes on; unable to get help, Doris reminisces about her quiet, uneventful life with its joys and sadnesses.
***** Stars
Talking Heads, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry, until Saturday. Running time 2 hours 30 mins.

I have only one tiny criticism to make about the Criterion Theatre's superb production of Talking Heads...I'm not entirely sure director Bill Butler got the running order right.

For those unfamiliar with Alan Bennett's sharply-honed observations of people who are gradually fading from our world after living lives that are no longer lived - this series of monologues provide a perfect gift for any actor.

Or actress, as it's usually actresses who benefit most from the veteran playwright's acute ear for a reality that to the X-Factor generation must seem stranger than fiction. But of course, it's bang on the money.

And you have to be a good actress to get it right because timing is everything. And there is no hiding place.

Not that Cathryn Bowler, Christine Ingall or Ann Woodward needed to hide on Monday night as each carefully extracted every nuance of Bennett brilliance from their roles.

My only thought is that the most famous, A Cream Cracker under the Settee, which features Doris, a house-proud pensioner determined not to surrender to residential care, should have perhaps been the middle offering, not the last.

Ann Woodward, who played widowed Doris, was captivating as she shuffled across the stage, reliving memories of her time with husband Wilfred, who'd never got round to fixing the garden gate.

Despite its fame, I felt it was a little too downbeat to end what was an evening of unalloyed joy.

I'd far rather have ended with Christine Ingall playing Irene, the Lady of Letters, who fills her days with a wide-ranging correspondence stretching from Buckingham Palace to the local funeral director, by way of a few hapless neighbours who don't happen to match her exacting standards of reasonable behaviour.

This one may not sound a barrel of laughs. And sometimes it isn't. But the ending is well worth the wait.

And I've certainly no argument with the opening choice of monologue, A Bed Among The Lentils. A delicious feast of the sacrilegious and divine as Cathryn Bowler takes on the role of Susan, the vicar's wife, who finds consolation for her misappropriation of the communion wine with Mr Ramesh, the Asian shopkeeper.

Verdict: I just can't recommend these three mini masterpieces enough. Beautifully directed, superbly acted and the great thing is that Bennett didn't stop with just three. There are so many more to enjoy. But what a choice for starters...

Barbara Goulden
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