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Talking Heads - Alan Bennett.

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Introduction

TALKING HEADS - ALAN BENNETT The following text is an essay based on two of the six Talking Heads monologues written by Alan Bennett: Bed Among The Lentils and Her Big Chance. The essay attempts to explain whether anything is lost or gained by reading these plays as short stories rather than seeing performances on television or the stage. The Talking Head monologues were originally written for performance on television, though they are also available as a collection of short stories. It has been suggested that Bennett created the pieces for specific performers, all of who are, to a certain extent, associated with him. It is therefore probable that he tailored the material to suit the individual actors' styles. Bed among the Lentils starred Maggie Smith as Susan, who can be thought of as a typical English actress synonymous with intelligent, straight-laced, aloof characters, i.e. Miss Brody, while Her Big Chance starred Julie Walters as Leslie, who, at that time, was best known for her ditsy, flamboyant, comic roles. Casting of this kind makes a difference to the way in which the characters are accepted by the audience. The Actors individual nuances and deliverance would have been taken into account when the plays were written and would make a vast difference to the way in which the characters are shown. Being aware of a particular Actors performance strengthens the language the character uses. ...read more.

Middle

She remembers sleeping with Ramesh as being 'the second Sunday after Trinity. This is highlighted by the Actors voice, for example, when Susan is heard to recant part of the Lords' prayer it is with a musical preaching tone which had been preceded and immediately followed by a mono-tonal quality, used when she is speaking of her life. Susan's appearance is a good indicator as to how she is feeling about herself and her life. When the audience first sees her she is dressed in dull, shabby clothing and has unkempt, lank hair. She makes no mention of her problem with alcohol, except by allusion, until the final scene when she reveals that she has been to Alcoholics Anonymous. Even her rehabilitation is seen by her as another "religion" and Geoffrey's attitude to it and to her are recounted with scant affection. It is apparent by the Actors delivery that there is no love lost between Susan and Geoffrey. He is, we are told, more interested in using the experience as a means of acquiring status as an "upwardly mobile parson" and according to Susan, this is what is in store for them both as Geoffrey ""brandishes" Susan's hand and tells her story all over the diocese. Susan is a changed woman at the end of the story, having, for the time being, given up drinking. This is clearly visible as the character is now well dressed, clean and smart with perfect hair and makeup. ...read more.

Conclusion

Her naivety is displayed by the hopeless way in which she records others' put-downs, and by her failure to see how distant she is from stardom. Fed by the flattery she receives from her lovers, she has an unrealistic idea of her success. Her self confidence is immense and in fact she is very difficult to like. Bennett, however, cleverly uses enough humour to prevent us from despising Lesley and we feel at the end rather sorry for her, left alone and determined to "acquire another skill" so that she can "offer more" as a person. She says at the end of her story that "acting is really just giving" but what she has to give is really not worth very much at all. The awful truth is that she is a victim of the fast dollar and doesn't even know that she is being exploited. Although neither of the characters intend to be funny, Bennett makes each of them speak in ways which cause the audience to laugh either at their situations or their turn of phrase, for example, Susan's account of the flower arranging session with Mrs Shrubsole or Lesley's attempt to be interesting at a party. The humour comes from the seriousness of the characters, they use what they perceive to be appropriate language to recount their stories. The audience, therefore, laughs at their situations and at their pretentious behaviour and often their ignorance within those situations. They are touching and real, and at the same time both tragic and funny and this is heightened when it can be seen on the screen. ...read more.

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