(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 17 August)
Alan Bennett’s monologues grouped under the title Talking Heads introduces us to two very different women and a mother-fixated man. All three are set in their long-established ways; for each this rigid path leads to an almost-inevitable measure of self-destruction.
The interest lies in how the dénouement for each character we meet comes about. It has something of the inevitability of classical tragedy as we watch how a character trait, a personality flaw or just the sheer inability to accept that change does and will occur moulds each story. Yes, for the most part we can see what will happen – but Bennett has a whole hand of master-cards up his sleeve.
Sarah Esdaile’s production cannot escape the piece’s 1988 television roots, though her slightly fidgety staging keeps each person firmly in that period. Francis O’Connor’s sets, atmospherically lit by Paul Pyant, combine naturalism with a touch of distortion – just as Miss Ruddock, Doris and Graham themselves live in a world whose distortion is as much of their own making as that provided by outside events and people.
All three actors are perfectly cast, especially Siobhan Redmond as Miss Ruddock; the second part of her story is a revelation in more than one sense. Karl Theobald has the measure of Karl, teetering on the edge of infantilism as he gauges the outside world through low-level porn magazines and his distorted view of his mother and his relationship with her.
Stephanie Cole is hear-breaking as Doris, so determined to stay in her own, now loo large home and to resist any attempt to cajole her into the sort of residential care which she (most probably correctly) sees as a short cut to the cemetery. Too proud to accept or call for help in the right circumstances and at the right time, she learns that being mistress of her fate is not necessarily as empowering as it seems.
Talking Heads runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 22 August.