Chit chat with the cast of Talking Heads...
Roberta Kerr, Conrad Nelson and Hazel Maycock chat about bringing Alan Bennett's Talking Heads characters to life...
What attracted you to being involved in Talking Heads?
Roberta I liked the opportunity of coming to work here as I worked at the Old Vic. I have done Talking Heads before and liked it, I like the Alan Bennett-ness of it, it’s written so well.
Conrad The material is good, I enjoy working with Gwenda and I enjoy working with my local theatre so a combination of those things made it an attractive proposition. Also, doing a monologue is a different sort of challenge – it’s a different sort of skills base. You’re working in something which was television, then it was converted into theatre then it was converted into a piece of theatre-in-the-round so it’s a triple challenge. It’s always good to give yourself a little hurdle, preferably not too high so you don’t stub your toe!
Hazel It appealed to me because of the people and the place. I really like the monologues, I like the whole world of where these characters are and I feel really fond of it - the language is just really juicy too.
What has it been like working in such a small cast in what are effectively separate plays?
Roberta To me it hasn’t actually felt that separate, partly because of the way the set is and the way that we open but I don’t want to give it away! I’ve felt very supported actually, I’ve really enjoyed listening to the others and I’ve enjoyed hearing how it has changed throughout the rehearsal process.
Conrad Apart from the second or third week we have actually spent a lot of time watching each other. I think hour by hour we have been more in the rehearsal room than not. It becomes a separate thing when you talk and you’re on you’re own but it’s not been a distant process.
Hazel Well there isn’t as many people to socialise with but fortunately the ones we’ve got are alright! My problem is not having anyone to play with on the stage, I knew I wasn’t going to but presumably you play with the audience and that’s who your other person or persons are.
How do you find presenting Talking Heads in-the-round?
Roberta For me because my character has a disability I’m a bit restricted in what I can do and I find it a bit inhibiting so I suppose being in the round is quite a challenge but I’m not new to being in-the-round and it’s my favoured working space.
Conrad The round is also about moving enough and not moving too much. People who come to see plays in-the-round accept that there are always times when someone can’t see the front of someone and that’s the way it goes. If you’re in multi scene there is always someone else to look at but in this scenario there is only one person. It is our job to try and engage an audience through the back of your head so they still feel some sort of connection when they’re not being directly spoken to.
Hazel When I first started with this I was looking over here, over there, round there and Gwenda said to me you’ve got to stop showing off and just be where you are on stage. Now, I’m not too worried because instead of the audience being out there they’re all in my kitchen, my living room and my bedroom.
What are the challenges of a monologue?
Roberta It is the same in terms of finding out about your character but you’re in charge of keeping up your own pace, there’s no one to kick start you. There’s no one to help you with your lines! I think it’s quite a big responsibility.
Conrad It’s an ongoing strive to self judge your own tempo and attack all the time so that you vary the pace and direction. It’s interpreting the qualities of a full cast play but making it into a monologue, you’ve got to make sure it doesn’t get too monotone or it doesn’t get too overly coloured. You need to have a bit of an eye on yourself all the time, a bit of a jockey’s whip if you get too safe or two or relaxed.
Hazel What’s nice about it is that it’s all mine but the negative bit is about controlling it. It’s usually nice to be so secure that you don’t have to worry about controlling it because it one thing leads to another. In this it’s the same, one thing does lead to another but you sort of have to keep yourself from getting carried away. It’s lovely having all those thoughts to yourself with regards to having to learn your lines
As an actor, what do you enjoy about Alan Bennett’s work?
Roberta I feel a familiarity with the phrases and the turns of phrase, they’re not unusual to me and that it a comfortable place to be. I enjoy the nostalgia aspect of it and also the humour, I don’t think it is belly laughs, it’s twitchy smiles.
Conrad I think you have to believe that someone like Bennett is a good craftsman, a good playwright - he makes good word choices which means it’s a joy to say. Sometimes you can struggle to make something that is not so well written work but if the material is good then it’s a celebration of good writing and good instincts which is what Bennett’s work is.
Hazel The language and the humour, I love that it’s cruel and love the way he shows relationships.