> The West Australian 5 October 2007
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The West Australian
5th October 2007
Review: Ron Banks
Talk to make heads turn
lan Bennett’s latest set of monologues to reach Perth audiences are ironic little tales of female self-delusion.
Not that self-delusion is a necessarily feminine trait but Bennett seems to understand the female psyche much better than other men and creates his characters with a delicious sense of irony and bittersweet sense of disappointment in life.
In the first of the tales, Her Big Chance, Sigrid Thornton plays an out-of-work actress invited by a predatory film director to take part in his obviously B-grade movie which will be released in Germany, and possibly Turkey.
It’s the kind of movie that requires Thornton’s actress Lesley to take off her clothes but Lesley, of course, is blissfully unaware of what will happen during the filming and misinterprets the actions of those making the film.
She is, not to put too fine a point on it, naive and unaware of the ironies of her situation, making generous allowances for the rather compromising role she is asked to play in her determination to maintain her artistic integrity.
It’s vintage Bennett in the way the writer takes the audience into his confidence. Lesley does not know what is going on but we, like priests in the confessional, listen carefully and try not to make moral judgments.
We do, of course, which is the joy of this kind of theatre. We’re privy to what is happening in Lesley’s life and can see how she’s going to come a cropper — if only she could see it herself.
Each of Bennett’s Talking Heads stories is a tour de force for any actress and Thornton delivers her character’s confessions with all the unconscious irony of the truly self-deceiving, at the same time eliciting our sympathies.
There is plenty of irony in Bennett’s second story, Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, although Brenda Blethyn’s eponymous character ends up rather more knowing about her actions than Thornton’s Lesley.
Miss Fozzard initially suffers from the same sense of delusion as Lesley. She finds all kinds of excuses for the strange behaviour of her new chiropodist, the silver-haired Mr Dunderdale, who offers a little bit more than foot massage. Blethyn’s Miss Fozzard gets most of the laughs in these theatrical exercises, probably because Bennett’s writing explores the kind of extremes we would not expect in relating the travails of a Leeds spinster whose weekly highlight is a visit to the chiropodist.
With a rolling Yorkshire accent, Blethyn becomes the lonely Miss Fozzard from soft furnishings, who is also dealing with the dilemma of how to care for her elderly brother, Bernard, who has just had a stroke.
Bernard needs to learn to walk and talk again and there is grim humour in Miss Fozzard’s candid descriptions of the road to recovery, and the problems of hiring an Australian nurse to look after him.
Bennett’s marvellous ability to evoke despair and disappointment with literally a single line of dialogue quickly turns Miss Fozzard into a sympathetic character.
“People don’t think you have a proper life,” she says at one point, underscoring the loneliness that lies at the heart of her confessions.
“I never thought I had a life,” she adds, at one stroke summing up why she has decided to become complicit with her chiropodist in the behaviour that finally adds some spice to her existence.
Talking Heads is theatre at its most basic — just an actor on a sofa or a padded chair and a few lighting cues. But with Bennett’s wit and wry observation of human nature combined with the talents of two experienced actresses there is a satisfying sense of theatre at its most engaging.