Theatre reviews: Talking Heads and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett
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Talking Heads, West Yorkshire Playhouse, by Nick Ahad ****

And so the Alan Bennett season draws to a close with some of the best loved works.

Bennett’s monologues were written for the BBC and performed by a stellar cast and are given wonderful new life by James Brining.

As I left the performance after a back-breaking two hours in what are surely the least comfortable theatre seats in the region I got speaking to another audience member.

Jean, well known around the Playhouse, had never seen Talking Heads performed live. Heard them, of course, we’ve all heard them, but never seen them live.

There is a moment in the heart wrenching Bed 
Among the Lentils, when Vicar’s wife Susan sees a Hindu deity in what is described as something like an episode from the Kama Sutra and remarks she looks busy.

The antecedence of that little line can be traced back to Bennett overhearing a conversation at Leeds Arts Gallery many years before.

How do we know? Because the man himself told the story in an Afternoon With event as part of the season celebrating him.

It is that moment that demonstrates the power of having such a season – you get a deeper look at a subject than you might ever normally have the chance.

It hasn’t been a faultless season, but it has been a brilliant addition to the theatre’s year.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ripley Castle, by Stephanie Smith ****

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the one that the intriguing woodland glades of Ripley Castle were surely created to stage.

It was the first that Sprite Productions staged there, and it returns to it for its tenth anniversary production, which opened this week.

The audience is allowed into the grounds an hour before performance, to sit, picnic and take in the darkening beauty of the gardens. Reality drifts gently into the dream world of theatre as the mechanicals begin to wander, measuring and planning, we soon realise, the Pyramus and Thisbe show they hope to perform for the wedding of Duke Theseus and Amazon queen Hippolyta.

With its several interconnected plots and flip-side themes of order and chaos, love and betrayal, appearance, reality and super-reality, you’re sometimes not sure where you are with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Yet this is a production that brings a heightened clarity and harmony.

Directed by Charlotte Bennett, the cast is strong and versatile, with a taut, synchronised energy that propels the action and ensures the attention even of youngsters never wanes. Liam Evans-Ford and Emma King double effectively as Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania, the aristocratic hauteur of the first couple contrasting with the earthy, super-natural sensuality of the warring fairy pair. All are excellent but special mention to Al Barclay as Peter Quince/Hermia’s father and Daniel Abelson as Bottom, both hilariously watchable.