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Posts Tagged ‘Talking Heads’

I’ve long had a problem with staged monologues; I like to see characters interacting in my plays. I thought I might have melted after all those streamed performances, having enjoyed Sea Wall & Three Kings with Andrew Scott in particular. This 1979 play by Brian Friel consists of four monologues by three characters, but I’m afraid at 2.5 unbroken hours it did’t hold my attention, as it hadn’t on stage.

Frank Hardy is a faith healer who tours Scotland and Wales, and latterly his home country of Ireland. The other characters are his wife Grace and manager Teddy. We hear from them in that order, with Hardy returning to conclude the piece. In addition to their experiences on the road, events like Hardy’s return home after twenty years as his mother dies, the loss of Frank and Grace’s child and Grace’s death are also covered, Friel leaving some questions unanswered. Though the prose is appealingly poetic, the narrative didn’t satisfy me, and it certainly doesn’t sustain its length.

Some great actors have been attracted to these roles over the years. The original London Hardy was Patrick Magee, who was followed by Ken Stott & Stephen Dillane, and now Michael Sheen, who it has to be said is mesmerising. Helen Mirren was London’s first Grace and Sinead Cusack, Geraldine James, Gina McKee, and now Indira Varma, who is excellent, have followed in her footsteps. Ron Cook, Iain McDiarmid and Warren Mitchell (on radio) have all played Teddy, with David Threlfall on top form in this production.

I can’t help making comparisons with Alan Bennet’s recently revived Talking Heads. Their economy and brevity contrasts with this play’s verbosity and they are like colour to Faith Healer’s black & white. Sadly more is less, despite a trio of fine performances.

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These two short Alan Bennett ‘plays’ have been sceduled to run for a limited number of performances concurrent with his new play People on the NT’s Lyttleton stage.  Seen separately, I don’t think either would have made for a particularly satisfying evening, but together they do add up to an entertaining, funny slice of biography.

Hymn tells the story of Bennett’s relationship with music in his early years, when his dad played violin and he attended his first concerts. It’s a slight piece, but as a monologue accompanied by a string quartet it’s rather charming and Alex Jennings impersonation of Bennett is as delightful as it is uncanny.

Cocktail Sticks belongs firmly in Talking Heads territory, though it isn’t quite a monologue as other (real life) characters step forward briefly (which for the stage, and following Hymn, was a good thing). Mam looms large (beautifully played by Gabrielle Lloyd, though without the programme I’d have been convinced it was Marcia Warren) and Dad comes back from the dead to add a droll line or two. Alex Jennings is again terrific as Bennett. This one has more depth than it first seems and you do feel as if you’ve peeped into Bennett’s life, albeit briefly.

Clearly not major Bennett, but to be honest I think I enjoyed them more than People.

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