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A feast at the Criterion in Coventry

Talking Heads, Criterion Theatre, Coventry, on until Saturday. Box office: 05601 277 975.

I HAVE only one tiny criticism to make about the Criterion Theatre’s superb production of Talking Heads - I’m not entirely sure director Bill Butler got the running order right.

For those unfamiliar with Alan Bennett’s sharply-honed observations of people who are gradually fading from our world after living lives that are no longer lived, this series of monologues provide a perfect gift for any actor.

Or actress. As it’s usually actresses who benefit most from the veteran playwright’s acute ear for a reality that to the X-Factor generation must seem stranger than fiction. But of course, it’s bang on the money.

And you have to be a good actress to get it right because timing is everything. And there is no hiding place.

Not that Cathryn Bowler, Christine Ingall or Ann Woodward needed to hide on Monday night as each carefully extracted every nuance of Bennett brilliance from their roles.

My only thought is that the most famous, A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, which features Doris, a houseproud pensioner determined not to surrender to residential care, should have perhaps been the middle offering, not the last.

Ann Woodward, who played widowed Doris, was captivating as she shuffled across the stage, reliving memories of her time with husband Wilfred, who’d never got round to fixing the garden gate.

Despite its fame, I felt it was a little too downbeat to end what was an evening of unalloyed joy.

I’d far rather have ended with Christine Ingall playing Irene, the Lady of Letters, who fills her days with a wide-ranging correspendence, stretching from Buckingham Palace to the local funeral director, by way of a few hapless neighbours who don’t happen to match her exacting standards of reasonable behaviour.

This one may not sound a barrel of laughs. And sometimes it isn’t. But the ending is well worth the wait.

And I’ve certainly no argument with the opening choice of monologue, A Bed Among The Lentils. A delicious feast of the sacrilegious and divine as Cathryn Bowler takes on the role of Susan, the vicar’s wife, who finds consolation for her misappropriation of the communion wine with Mr Ramesh, the Asian shopkeeper.

I just can’t recommend these three mini masterpieces enough. Beautifully directed, superbly acted and the great thing is that Bennett didn’t stop with just three. There are so many more to enjoy. But what a choice for starters.

Barbara Goulden

 
 
 

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