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as Susan

Maxine Roach as Susan

Mesmerising revival of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ at The Stables

The Stables Theatre’s current production is a revival of three of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, the award winning series of monologues that first appeared on TV in 1988. Toby Sargent was at the first night.

The dramatic monologue is one of the hardest things for an actor to pull off successfully. Standing alone on stage in front of a live audience and speaking, without fellow cast members or props, continuously for 30 minutes or so is hard enough in itself. But to do so in such a way that the words come alive and a story is told that grips those watching both with what is said and what is suggested by expression and nuance is very difficult indeed.

So it is fortunate indeed that The Stables can draw on a pool of talent that is simply outstanding, pulling off a mesmerising evening that delighted the first night audience. Non-professional in name only, the three solo actors – Maxine Roach as Susan in Bed Among the Lentils, Bill Allender as Graham in A Chip in the Sugar and Bertie Hastwayte as Lesley in Her Big Chance were simply superb.

Bill Allender

Bill Allender as Graham (pic: Peter Mould)

Peter Mould, the Director of the three pieces, brought out the banality of each character’s life while at the same time presenting their vulnerability in a way that made you root for them.

Each one began by seeming to be in charge of their individual destiny before crumbling in the face of events and circumstances. But if this all sounds a bit grim, I should mention that – coming as it does from the pen of Alan Bennett – it is also very funny indeed.

Beautifully judged

It’s also worth putting in a word of praise for the sets. Minimal, of course, but carefully chosen for all that. For example the simple projection of a church window’s silhouette behind the vicar’s wife in Bed Among the Lentils was beautifully judged.

Peevish and slightly camp

Maxine Roach, Bill Allender and Bertie Hastwayte took parts that Maggie Smith, Alan Bennett himself and Julie Walters respectively played in the TV series, and filled those most distinguished shoes with style and ease.


Bertie Hastwayte as Lesley

It’s not fair to pick out a favourite performance from the three but, if pushed, I’d have to particularly commend Bill Allender, whose portrayal of Graham – a peevish, slightly camp, northern gentleman with a mild mental illness and a delicately symbiotic relationship with his mother – was extraordinary.

Quiet desperation

But then again, Bertie Hastwayte’s performance as Lesley, the ever-hopeful yet equally self-deluded actress was also a treat, and all the more so for coming in what, for me, was the weakest of the scripts. And as for Maxine Roach as Susan, the vicar’s wife with a chaotic and ultimately tragic back story, she was the perfect opener for this absorbing evening – telling her tale with all the quiet desperation of a decent person trapped in a cage of her own frustrations.

This is very good theatre indeed. It’s only on until 10 June, so get a ticket while you can.

The Stables Theatre and Art Centre, The Bourne, Hastings TN34 3BD



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Posted 12:12 Wednesday, Jun 7, 2017 In: Performance

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