THREE of Alan Bennett’s famous Talking Heads monologues - first published in the late 1980s - were given an airing by Tweed Theatre in the Eastgate Theatre at the end of last month to a rapt and discerning audience, writes Ros Taylor

The evening started with A Lady of Letters, an examination of the actions of Miss Ruddock, a lady who sees herself as a public-spirited guardian of morals. She is moved to write to individuals, officeholders and the news media wherever and whenever she feels public probity has been challenged. Anyone or anything might be a target of her wrath, from young men smoking in a crematorium grounds to the length of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hair!

Jean Westwater as Irene Ruddock is telling a story to the meaning of which she is not entirely privy; she sees herself as a champion of the public, while others see her as a noxious busybody - "...who was it wrote to the chemist saying his wife was a prostitute?”

Eventually, after a heartstopping moment of theatre when she realises her accusation of child neglect against neighbours is woefully far off the mark, she goes too far and lands in prison. There, strangely, she seems finally to find a real purpose in life.

Jean expertly rode the inflections and rhythms of this piece to find the sad lack of self knowledge of the artless Miss Ruddock. Subtly, through the monologue, she brings out the change from a perfect conviction of her own righteousness to a level of understanding of others inconceivable at the start of the piece.

The second monologue saw Graham McIntosh as Graham Whittaker, a man of mature years, living with his mum in a cosy relationship - “give me your teeth. I’ll swill them” - whose world is suddenly threatened by an old friend of his mother.

Graham is devastated by his mother’s transformation after a chance meeting with Frank Turnbull, a semi-retired gents’ outfitter. Frank’s reactionary views on everything from the economy to mental illness - “nine times out of ten it’s a case of pulling your socks up” - frightens Graham as he sees how they start to influence the one stable factor in his life.

The actor’s minute exposition of the son’s reaction to the tsunami of change threatening him beautifully points up the dilemma of a middle aged man who cannot accept that he is irrevocably married to his elderly mother. The hysterical, and poignant, episode at the Community Caring Centre hints at the spectre of mental instability before an unexpected visit by a “well-wisher” brings the mother’s dreams crashing into ruins.

After the interval, the audience was introduced to Lesley, a small time actress living in permanent hope of hitting the A list in Her Big Chance.

Lesley constantly anticipates fame and fortune but her naivety leads to an endless cycle of sleazy exploitation. She lands a part in a soft porn video – "the film’s coming out in West Germany initially, then Turkey possibly” - during which she is treated dismissively, and occasionally cruelly, by all the people involved.

Paula Blackhall, as Lesley, made the role originally played by Julie Walters on TV in the 1980s compellingly her own. She brought a fresh dynamic, as an American, to the hopelessly optimistic and self deluded minor actress. Paula expertly delineated the character’s desperate need for validation especially poignantly when she asks Gunther (the director),”were you pleased with my performance?"

He said, "Listen. If someone is a bad actress I can’t sleep with her.”

The production cleverly used a simple reversible set of two hinged flats with differing furnishings to suggest scene changes, subtle costuming indicated personality and the direction let the superb talents of the individual players come triumphantly through the demands of the monologue form by creating a world of characters.

Bennett’s writing in Talking Heads is widely regarded as a modern classic of theatre. Tweed Theatre reminded us just how good it is.