THE genius of Alan Bennett is the ability to swerve from a constant flow of gently humorous downbeat observations to genuinely breathtaking heartbreak – and then back again in almost the same breath.
The writer’s monologues were created for TV back in the 1980s and three of the best known have been resurrected for the stage in fine style.
Siobhan Redmond is first up as meddlesome letter-writer and complainer Irene Ruddock. The Scot manages a very passable Yorkshire accent (to these southern ears anyway) and her portrayal of a 1950s busybody is a great introduction, especially with the turnaround in character that comes from her late-life enlightenment.
The headline act is Stephanie Cole, playing the elderly Doris who takes a fall and then discovers a cream cracker under her sofa, which she regards as evidence her cleaner should be sacked. She performs her 40 minutes almost entirely sprawled on the floor and manages to combine a melancholic look back at her life with portraying the universal fear of ‘ending up in a home’.
But the undoubted star act is Karl Theobald as Graham, a mentally unstable, middle-aged son still living with – and firmly under the wing of – his mother. His more frenetic delivery and constant pacing around the spartan set perfectly created a smothering feeling of both depression, anxiety and genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
Monologues must be among the toughest of acting jobs but all three proved up to the task, while Bennett’s words remain as darkly comic and thought-provoking as ever.
(Runs until Saturday September 12)