Siobhan’s heads and shoulders above the rest

STEPPING out on stage in front of a packed house to perform an emotionally-draining monologue must be one of acting’s toughest jobs.

There’s no support, no room for error and everyone in the room is hanging on your every word.

“It’s terrifying!” says Siobhan Redmond, who is currently taking on the role of Irene Ruddock in A Lady of Letters, one of Alan Bennett’s famous Talking Heads.

“When you’re on stage with other people you have thinking time, there’s none of that here. You can’t come in and out of character. I haven’t actually made a huge mistake or ground to a halt yet…God knows what would happen if I did. That would baffle me.”

But Siobhan, known to TV viewers for her roles in Between The Lines, Holby City, EastEnders and Midsomer Murders, is relishing her first Alan Bennett experience.

“I was lucky enough to be offered the part and I thought what a wonderful opportunity!” she says. “I’d never done any of Alan Bennett’s writing before and I’d always admired it, and I’d never done anything by myself before.

“I’d done monologues in revues but nothing like this with just me on stage for around 40 minutes. I thought it’s about time I tried it.

“I was also thrilled to be offered it because it’s quite different from the parts I’ve been playing recently – I always seem to be a fairy, a sci-fi villain or a queen with special powers. The character description for this said ‘she’s an ordinary middle-aged woman’ and I thought bring it on, let’s do this.”

Her character, Irene, writes letter after letter to the police, her MP, the chemist and anyone else she thinks might remedy what she sees as social ills. In the famous TV series of Talking Heads, the role was played by Patricia Routledge.

Siobhan says: “Everyone remembers it because she’s a very brilliant actress and sometimes there’s a perfect marriage of acting and piece, and that’s what happened with this.

“We would all rather be watching Patricia Routledge doing it, but she’s not doing this gig. She’s moved on to do other stuff. So, I feel enormously privileged that I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take it on.”

The theatre version is also different in other ways.

“People also remember that on TV you get very close up and you can see every thought in the actor’s face – we can’t do that in the theatre, so it’s different,” explains Siobhan.

“Also, a lot of people don’t remember what happens to my character. She’s sees all these things going on that she likes to moan about but once she comes into contact with the kind of people she would have once complained about, she responds in a human way and you see a different side to her…although she’s still not the kind of person you’d want to get stuck in a lift with!”

Siobhan is joined in the production by Karl Theobald in A Chip In the Sugar and Stephanie Cole in A Cracker Under The Sofa – but she doesn’t see too much of them.

“There are actually six actors working on this – we each have to have someone on standby in case we get ill or get stranded on a bus or something,” she explains. “But we never meet on stage, so we’re constantly congregating back stage to chat with each other.

“However, the relationship you have with the audience is more intimate and you feel like it’s a conversation even if they aren’t saying much. You can tell by the warmth of the reception how it’s going. That’s one reason why I love theatre more than other acting – it’s happening in real time with a live audience, you can’t beat that.”

Siobhan Redmond, Stephanie Cole and Karl Theobald will star in Talking Heads at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Tuesday, September 8 until Saturday, September 12.

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