7 July 2018 ·
The thing about Alan Bennett’s, Talking Heads series is that serious motifs of social interest, psychological rationale, mental health, personal pain and community perceptions are couched in what may first appear to be merely entertaining, light-hearted and witty texts. All the monologues are rich with satire and irony that strike out at religion, the state, the medical profession and attitudes of society. Some priceless one liners have universal appeal while others require some appreciation of local idiom. Nevertheless, all can be ‘punctuated’ a little differently for locations outside of the usual environs of northern England to penetrate the distinctive quality of the texts.
A Lady of Letters is no exception to the above. In fact, the play can be and has been done successfully as a straight comedy. However, my interest in mental health, racism, isolation, inclusion, depression and acceptance led me to really study this text;
1. Because I am familiar with it having already performed it and
2. Because it provides an opportunity to focus completely on the words and only the words. One ought to do justice to the choice of words given that this play, and dare I say the others in this series, remain as relevant in a contemporary society as they did thirty plus years ago.
One of my current ‘work in progress’ projects, is an exercise based on stillness and tempo; stillness of the arms, legs, torso and even the head so that there is no other distraction for the audience or the actor. The voice and face has it all. There is nothing more difficult than learning to be still, especially for someone like me.
Then there is tempo. There is nothing like slowing everything down, even to ‘syncopate’, the rhythm, if you like and extending those pauses for a sustained period to give weight to an idea or decision; often, the line that comes immediately afterwards is of greater consequence. So there are a myriad of choices of emphasis.
All this results in a transformation of delivery and intent of the character, which is kind of fun.