DUNS Players could have tackled Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ in two ways last week – either by imitating the original 1980s television plays, or reinterpreting the characters to avoid inevitable comparisons.
In the end, they did both.
Christine Sclater opened the evening at the Duns Volunteer Hall as Irene Ruddock in ‘A Lady of Letters’ – a lonely woman who spends her days corresponding with people in authority, complaining about what she sees as social decay around her.
After one accusatory letter too far, Irene is sent to prison where ironically for the first time in her life she feels free.
Initially, Christine’s first night nerves may have crept in, with some temporary problems with breath control, but by the mid-section of her monologue she had relaxed, demonstrating lovely comic timing and understated acting.
While Christine’s performance took the tone of a fond Patricia Routledge homage, Genny Dixon moved away from attempting Maggie Smith’s unsurpassable portrayal of stifling suppression in ‘A Bed Among the Lentils’.
Instead, Genny gave Susan – the alcoholic vicar’s wife who has an affair with local grocer, Ramesh Ramesh III – palpable anger.
This Susan rails against her life not lived, before eventually finding some sort of compromised peace. Handling the dialogue with ease and adept pacing, Genny confessed that she drew on her past experience as, yes, a vicar’s wife!
John Schofield played Graham in the final monologue of the night, ‘A Chip in the Sugar’.
Graham lives at home looking after his elderly mother but domestic harmony is disturbed upon his mother meeting up with old flame Frank Turnbull, who goes on to propose marriage. Side-lined and increasingly jealous, Graham learns that Frank is actually married and triumphantly tells his mother, splitting them up, thus restoring the status quo.
The thing about John is that he’s a details man. The teacup he used on stage? It had ‘A Gift from Scarborough’ written on it (a nod to Bennett’s Northern roots.) That magazine he tucked under the chair? A real gay pornographic mag (Graham is a repressed homosexual).
These little touches bedded-in the character and enabled John to really enjoy the part. He took his time, savouring the words like a humbug. Wonderful.
Peter Lerpiniere, the director and self-confessed Bennett fan, praised the cast for their commitment and admitted that the cast largely directed themselves.
In just five weeks, the cast – all working and leading busy lives – memorised their monologues, leaving a pleasingly redundant auto-cue. Very impressive.
Duns Players are going from strength to strength, and their renewed ambition and dedication in delivering productions as skilled as ‘Talking Heads’ is bound to build them a wider following.
Watch this space.