Talking Heads by Alan Bennett

Topics: Alcohol

This sample essay on Alan Bennett Talking Heads provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

The following text is an essay based on two of the six Talking Heads monologues written by Alan Bennett: Bed Among The Lentils and Her Big Chance. The essay attempts to explain whether anything is lost or gained by reading these plays as short stories rather than seeing performances on television or the stage.

The Talking Head monologues were originally written for performance on television, though they are also available as a collection of short stories. It has been suggested that Bennett created the pieces for specific performers, all of who are, to a certain extent, associated with him.

It is therefore probable that he tailored the material to suit the individual actors’ styles. Bed among the Lentils starred Maggie Smith as Susan, who can be thought of as a typical English actress synonymous with intelligent, straight-laced, aloof characters, i.

e. Miss Brody, while Her Big Chance starred Julie Walters as Leslie, who, at that time, was best known for her ditsy, flamboyant, comic roles. Casting of this kind makes a difference to the way in which the characters are accepted by the audience.

The Actors individual nuances and deliverance would have been taken into account when the plays were written and would make a vast difference to the way in which the characters are shown.

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Being aware of a particular Actors performance strengthens the language the character uses. It makes the language used appropriate to the characters social background and since all the pieces were intended for performance, there is a musical quality to the text, which makes it sound more effective when read aloud.

Talking Heads Maggie Smith

Though the text also stands reasonably well as a series of short stories, the fluent language used by each individual Actor as a repetitive musical rhythm of speech, i. e. Susan with her monotone delivery and Leslie with her high-octane quality, does add to the performance. One of the features of these stories is that there is an invisible barrier between the main characters and the “real” world. Each person has a secret which is well hidden but never revealed or acknowledged voluntarily. Each person hides her weakness – Susan’s alcoholism and loss of faith – Lesley’s promiscuity and lack of talent.

Each character keeps up a pretence of “normality” and Bennett shows us, through the eye of the camera, how each person struggles to maintain a facade. The characters don’t seem to talk to the audience, but at it. Susan, the vicar’s wife, tells the story of her alcoholism and rehabilitation. She feels she is trapped in a loveless marriage to an Anglican clergyman, has taken to drink and begun an affair with an Asian grocer. Initially, Susan does come across as someone who is full of contempt for sex, with her description of sex as ‘frightful collisions’, or her own sex with Geoffrey as ‘desiccated conjunctions’.

This at first suggests that she is simply a woman who lacks sexual desire. However, we later discover that it is a mere lack of desire with regards to Geoffrey. Her constant reference to Ramesh’s ‘wonderful legs’ indicates great sexual desire. We therefore have this image of Susan as an unfulfilled woman in every respect, which is enhanced by the envious tone in her voice when she notices people, on a Sunday afternoon, ‘Living’, but when she refers to Mr Ramesh it is enhanced by the smile on the Actors lips.

Susan despises her husband and his loyal band of parishioners and what they stand for but her involvement in the church is so fundamental to her life that she has even started to date important events in her life by holidays and occasions in religion. She remembers sleeping with Ramesh as being ‘the second Sunday after Trinity. This is highlighted by the Actors voice, for example, when Susan is heard to recant part of the Lords’ prayer it is with a musical preaching tone which had been preceded and immediately followed by a mono-tonal quality, used when she is speaking of her life.

Susan’s appearance is a good indicator as to how she is feeling about herself and her life. When the audience first sees her she is dressed in dull, shabby clothing and has unkempt, lank hair. She makes no mention of her problem with alcohol, except by allusion, until the final scene when she reveals that she has been to Alcoholics Anonymous. Even her rehabilitation is seen by her as another “religion” and Geoffrey’s attitude to it and to her are recounted with scant affection.

It is apparent by the Actors delivery that there is no love lost between Susan and Geoffrey. He is, we are told, more interested in using the experience as a means of acquiring status as an “upwardly mobile parson” and according to Susan, this is what is in store for them both as Geoffrey “”brandishes” Susan’s hand and tells her story all over the diocese. Susan is a changed woman at the end of the story, having, for the time being, given up drinking. This is clearly visible as the character is now well dressed, clean and smart with perfect hair and makeup.

She is still “Mrs Vicar”, but the audience is left thinking that this might not last and there is an uncertainty to her future. Her attitude has not softened at all and this is obvious in the Actors delivery, the same mono-tonal voice and blank expression. It seems that though she is well aware of her situation, she has not yet decided what to do about it and her future is unclear. Susan remains, despite her reformation, a vicar’s wife who has lost her faith and is still dissatisfied with her marriage and her husband.

With Leslie, in Her Big Chance, it would seem that Bennett based this character on various types he had seen in theatrical auditions and we can assume that she does have a certain accuracy. This is heighten by casting Julie Walters in this role. The character is first seen on a sunbed, a pastime considered to give the appearance of health though it is widely known to actually cause health problems. Using this in the opening of the play helps to build an image of Lesley of someone who is superficial and spends a lot of time on her appearance.

Lesley believes herself to be “professional to her fingertips” when in fact she is almost completely lacking in any talent other than taking off her clothes and sleeping with the stage-hands. The parts she has played are minor, although she believes that they are important. From the first moment, Lesley builds up her small role in her head, ignoring the obvious facts that she has the part only because of the size of her breasts and that the (possibly soft-porn) production will have only a small audience.

She tries desperately to improve herself, but her efforts at “collecting people” result only in more casual bed partners. Bennett makes her language very “luvvie”, and lards her story with theatrical jargon. This is delivered brilliantly by Julie Walters who is stereotypically cast in this kind of role. Lesley has no sense of humour at all, and displays a certain amount of waspishness when other characters puncture her ego. This is heightened by the expression on the characters face that shows that she is completely unaware of the sarcasm in others voices.

Her naivety is displayed by the hopeless way in which she records others’ put-downs, and by her failure to see how distant she is from stardom. Fed by the flattery she receives from her lovers, she has an unrealistic idea of her success. Her self confidence is immense and in fact she is very difficult to like. Bennett, however, cleverly uses enough humour to prevent us from despising Lesley and we feel at the end rather sorry for her, left alone and determined to “acquire another skill” so that she can “offer more” as a person.

She says at the end of her story that “acting is really just giving” but what she has to give is really not worth very much at all. The awful truth is that she is a victim of the fast dollar and doesn’t even know that she is being exploited. Although neither of the characters intend to be funny, Bennett makes each of them speak in ways which cause the audience to laugh either at their situations or their turn of phrase, for example, Susan’s account of the flower arranging session with Mrs Shrubsole or Lesley’s attempt to be interesting at a party.

The humour comes from the seriousness of the characters, they use what they perceive to be appropriate language to recount their stories. The audience, therefore, laughs at their situations and at their pretentious behaviour and often their ignorance within those situations. They are touching and real, and at the same time both tragic and funny and this is heightened when it can be seen on the screen.

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Talking Heads by Alan Bennett. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Talking Heads by Alan Bennett
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