Talking Heads in Bognor Regis

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Sompting husband-and-wife team Stuart and Dawn Smithers combine once again to offer one of the monologues in a night of Alan Bennett coming up in Bognor Regis.

The Regis Centre presents Bennett’s Talking Heads on Friday, February 5 and Saturday, February 6 featuring three of the pieces from his first series: A Chip in the Sugar, Her Big Chance and A Lady of Letters. Dawn will be directing Stuart in A Chip in the Sugar, just as she did some years ago in Arundel in a production which also saw Stuart direct Dawn in Bennett’s Bed Among the Lentils.

This latest Bennett triple bill comes about because Kate Bennett at the Regis Centre was wanting to increase the amount of drama the venue offers: “Kate got in touch and suggested this,” Dawn says. Stuart leapt at the chance of doing it again.

“I think Alan Bennett just understands human nature so well at ground level. He seems to see right into people with all the fripperies gone, and I think that’s what makes him so successful. He is also very, very funny. I am directing The History Boys (also by Bennett) this summer. He just writes so well, with such a sense of timing, such a sense of comedy. He is quite a fundamentalist as well in what he says.

“In A Chip in the Sugar, you have got this young man who is emotionally retarded and is dependent on his mother, and then suddenly his mother gets a new admirer, and he feels his life is going to change. But it turns out the admirer is not all that he should be…

“This is the only one of the monologues that Bennett did himself, and it is the longest.”

Directing someone in a monologue isn’t fundamentally different to directing a full-cast play, Dawn believes: “You have still got to get the character out of everyone. But obviously the moves are a bit easier with just one person, and also with one to one, you can go deeper into the character because you are spending more time with just that one person. You can stop and start, stop and start.”

Stuart is clearly an experienced actor who has played the part before, but that doesn’t alter the role of the director: “I don’t care whether you are Kenneth Branagh or Judi Dench. You still cannot see yourself on stage, and that’s part of the point of the director. Obviously it is easier to direct somebody who has experience, and I imagine with The History Boys, I will be directing a few people where I have to start right at ground level. But the point is you have still got to get the best out of everyone. Stuart is an absolute perfectionist, and so I am. He is working on it every night. He learns the lines, and I just say ‘Let’s do it.’ But you have got people paying money. It doesn’t matter how much they are paying. They are paying, and you have got to do the very best you can.”

A Lady of Letters is about Irene Ruddock – a single, middle-aged woman who is not afraid to speak, or rather write, her mind. The third monologue is Her Big Chance, originally performed by Julie Walters. Lesley is an aspiring actress, who, after a series of unpromising extra roles on television programmes such as Crossroads, is offered what she believes to be her big break… The production is in the Little Alex, a studio space set up on the stage of the Alexandra Theatre. Tickets on 01243 861010.

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