Staging a select trio of Alan Bennett’s famous series of BBC monologues – namely “A Lady of Letters”, “Bed Among The Lentils”, and “Soldiering On” - director Brigid Larmour revives the work together with her leading ladies, “Casualty” star Julia Watson and Jan Ravens of “Dead Ringers” fame.
This is a superbly-realised production in every respect. As Artistic Director of the Watford Palace, Larmour knows her beautiful, well-appointed surroundings intimately, and keenly demonstrates their best use by way of the sparse, portrait-like set design (courtesy of Designer Basia Binkowska and Scenic Artist Aimee Bunyard), helping to draw all attention towards her wonderfully talented lead performers, and the beautifully detailed, evocative writing of Alan Bennett. Tom Desmond’s Sound Design and Bethany Gupwell’s Lighting Design also jointly assist in giving proceedings a light, delightfully whimsical flourish of detail that greatly enhances whilst never distracting, and appears effortless precisely because of great effort.
Much the same is true of both leads in this production, each one giving excellent, artful performances which are full of huge presence, shining personality, and infinite, sympathetic humanity. Jan Ravens is absolutely superb in her joint roles as Muriel and Miss Ruddock, each their own distinct breed of heart-rendingly tragic figure, and full of their own unique, fully-realised and full-rounded humanity. Julia Watson is outstanding as well, cutting a complex and sympathetic figure as the deeply troubled Susan; and each has been skilfully directed with purposeful confidence by Larmour, who never forgets the need for some physicality and movement to lend some visual action to a work heavy on its dialogue.
Meanwhile, Bennett’s writing is full of its hallmarked, often horrendously dark humour, perfectly timed and delivered, and yet still barely able to disguise a razor-keen edge of the macabre. Creeping dread and mounting tension seep through every precisely-chosen word of the trio of monologues, pushing inevitably onwards towards the emotional devastation, tragedy and horror at their respective cores, all the while dealing unabashedly with the urgent, topical issues of loneliness, isolation, mental illness, substance abuse, and plain abuse itself. It is some of Beckett’s finest, with the beauty of his prose never disguising, but only lifting the veil from perfectly realised human imperfection and ugliness – all of which is more-than-capably performed by the best women for the job, who bring everything to vividly-illustrated life, and allow this superb writing to ascend to its full heartbreaking and hilarious heights in their masterful performances.
Magnificent, beautiful work, showing all the evidence of art.
It runs until 29 March
Review: Christopher O'Dea-Giordano Photo: The Other Richard