Review: Talking Heads, Program B

A second series of monologues by Alan Bennett reveals characters whose secrets are equally comic and moving


TALKING HEADS, PROGRAM B by Alan Bennett (Precisely Peter/Campbell House, 160 Queen West). Runs to rep to November 22, see website for schedule. $25. 416-597-0227, bpt.me/2396024. Rating: NNNN


Theatre audiences have already seen three of Alan Bennett’s masterful monologues, Talking Heads, staged by director John Shooter last year. He’s remounted that trio, again in partnership with Campbell House Museum, and added a second series.

The new program, like the first, has people reflecting on their lives and every once in a while revealing secrets they keep hidden from those around them, sometimes even surprising themselves with their utterances. The writing and Shooter’s direction bring out their quiet tragedies and comic tartness.

In the first, Celia (Deb Filler), a snobbish antique dealer who prides herself on having a discerning eye, cozies up to an elderly woman to get some of her estate when she dies. Sarcastic and condescending in private, Celia thinks she’s made a profit on a foolish client’s purchase but finds herself bitten in the end.

In Filler’s hands, we laugh at the dealer’s put-downs and even feel a bit sorry for her when her world is turned upside down.

The next work focuses on Graham (Richard Sheridan Willis), a developmentally challenged mature man living with his mother, who becomes jealous when she renews a relationship with an oily, manipulative male friend from her past. The comedy here is muted, Willis sometimes more eloquent with his silences than with Bennett’s words.

The most biting and moving monologue features Fiona Reid as Susan, a vicar’s wife bereft of affection and a purpose in life. She turns her satire on herself as well as on others in her world, notably her self-centred, ambitious husband and the “fan club” of congregants who adore his schoolboy good looks probably more than his sermons.

Low-key and personal – in the intimate staging, the actor makes eye contact with most of the audience at some point – Reid’s Susan, whose crutches are cynicism and liquor, makes a touching journey from quiet despondency to shy happiness and back again, ending on a note of ineffable sadness. Great script, great performance.

For a review of the A program of Talking Heads see https://nowtoronto.com/stage/theatre/smart-talk/

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