Worthing’s Gill Medway steps into Patricia Routledge’s shoes as Bognor’s Regis Centre presents Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads on Friday and Saturday, February 5 and 6.
The show offers three monologues from his first series, A Chip in the Sugar, Her Big Chance and A Lady of Letters, the latter Gill’s contribution to the night.
The piece – originally performed Patricia Routledge – is about Irene Ruddock, a single, middle-aged woman who is not afraid to speak, or rather write, her mind. She frequently writes to her MP, the police, the chemist – everyone she can, to remedy the social ills she sees around her. But not everyone appreciates her views…
“She is a very lonely lady,” Gill says. “She fills her days by writing letters to people she doesn’t really know. That’s how it starts off, quite innocently. She writes to her MP drawing to his attention to the fact there are too many policemen wearing glasses. She is just starved of attention, and she takes anything on board. But the whole thing spirals out of control. For anyone who has not seen it on TV, I won’t say what happens, but writing all these busybody letters gets her into serious trouble…”
So do we dismiss her as a nasty meddler? Or do we feel sympathy for her?
“What I think is so great about Bennett’s writing is the way he gives us such a detailed look into his characters’ lives. In all the Talking Heads, there is so much to explore. With this one, I think if you just dismiss her as a nosy old bat, then you are doing her and the play a serious disservice. She is actually a woman who has never had any fun in her life. She has looked after her mother until her mother’s death, and she has never had any freedom. She has never been anywhere or done anything. It’s such a detailed portrait. When we are in rehearsal, I just imagine the audience leaning in closer and closer to find out more about her. I think the audience will look to do that. I think when you play anyone, you have got to find sympathy with that character. You have got to like them in some way or you can’t play them. You have got to find something in there that makes them human… I have done monologues before, but this is quite a long one. I do like performing monologues because as an actor you have just got to rely on yourself. People ask how do you learn all the lines, but you are just having to cue yourself. What is great about Alan Bennett’s writing is that it is so terrific, it has got the most marvellous flow. I found the first page terribly difficult to learn, but once I had done that, the rest flowed.”
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