WHEN Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series was first screened by the BBC in the Eighties, jaws could be heard dropping across the country.
A series of monologues in which generally solitary souls talked about their lives wouldn’t strike every TV viewer as the most riveting night in.
But they were. Thanks to Bennett’s astonishing skill with words plus a very fine line-up of actors and directors, we were touched, moved, made to laugh out loud. And to think.
Little wonder that Huddersfield Thespians is staging six of the pieces in its next outing at the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
There will be plenty of opportunity to see all of them. The run in the Cellar space is from Tuesday, that’s April 30, until Saturday which is May 4.
The plays are being grouped together in threes on different evenings so that over two nights you can see all six. Alternatively, make a day of it on Saturday and see three at the matinee and the final trio in the evening. Simple.
There are two of the Thespians most experienced directors, Julie Root and Alistair Cheetham and six cracking performers, Derek Smith, Pauline Sykes, Maria Sykes, Christine Davies, Laura Womersley and Moyra Miller.
Julie and Alistair have been working very much as a team. Though each has got three plays to director, both are acting as PA on the other so that there is a compatible style which ties everything together.
Their way of deciding who would do which play seems very scientific.
“I suggested to Julie that she chose the one that she really wanted to do the most,” said Alistair.
“I then got to chose numbers two and three, Julie picked her next two (four and five) and I took the one that was left.
“I fact it worked perfectly. If, before we started that process, we had each written down the three plays that we most wanted to do, we would have still ended up with exactly the same three that we’ve got.”
Perfect system then.
“Each of us got the plays that we really wanted and each of us has reasons for wanting to do the plays that we got,” he said.
“A Cream Cracker Under The Settee was Julie’s first choice and I think she wanted to do that because of the impact that it had on her when she first saw it.”
For Alistair, one of the most rewarding challenges has been the staging of A Bed Among The Lentils.
“It’s that challenge of taking a character who is downtrodden and making them a likeable character and someone who can draw the humour out of what is a very dark situation for the person portrayed,” he said.
For many, Thora Hird’s portrayal of Doris, the elderly widow who lives alone while continuing to assert her independence, remains a memorable one.
We meet Doris in A Cream Cracker Under The Settee, Julie’s first choice, when the old lady has fallen, trying to dust a picture frame high on the wall. We share the joys and sadness of her quiet and uneventful life as she waits forlornly for help.
Bennett is perhaps the only writer who could paint that situation with such tenderness and such humour.
“The more I have studied the plays and worked on them, the more I am in awe of the skill of Bennett,” said Julie.
“We have set the plays in the Eighties which is how the originals were staged, but the themes are just as relevant in any decade.
“There’s a lot of hard-hitting stuff when you get below the surface,” said Julie.
“There are a lot of poignant, very serious and at times disturbing issues to think about. In some ways, it is a bit of a bleak view of old age.”
But with Bennett’s glorious way with words and the Thespians’ acting and directing skills, this should be a terrific week in the theatre. Box office is on 01484 430528.