After 30 years of a successful career of film, theatre, satire and television, Alan Bennett broke new dramatic ground with his series of monologues "Talking Heads". It was a new and brave idea to have just one character talking, keeping an audience gripped by asking them to listen to one characters thoughts and feelings. There is no action and this is unlike a more conventional play.Alan Bennett first appeared on stage in 1960 when he starred and co-authored the satirical review "Beyond the Fringe".Bennett's writing frequently focuses on the everyday and the mundane: sea-side holidays, lower-middle class pretensions, obsessions with class, cleanliness, propriety and sexual repression.
Born in Yorkshire, Bennett's 'Englishness' and 'Northeness' are evident to see and the characters he writes about are rooted in a particular social environment but the issues they raise are more of a universal appeal.In "talking heads" each take gives the viewer privileged access to the innermost thoughts of an individual, who although we only hear his/her side of the story, frequently reveals more about himself/herself than intended. The characters are often deluded about themselves and the viewer usually knows and understands more than the character himself/herself.The "talking heads" monologues are described as short stories. This is becausethey have a plot and they also have secondary characters.
The monologues are performed by a single character who weaves secondarycharacters into the story by talking on the mannerisms, body language andexpressions of the other characters to show their bias views on other people and scenarios. We are tricked into believing we are watching more than one character and this makes it more interesting.Section 2The greatest similarity between each of the "talking heads" is that they are all marginalised characters. They are ordinary people on the edge of our society who are unnoticed in everyday life. They have no voice until Bennett gives them one.We feel a mixture of feelings towards the characters, due to the tragic-comic style which Bennett adopts.
The characters tell us things that they don't realise and we find this amusing but are also sympathetic to them and their life. The characters are self-deluded and Bennett makes full use of this dramatic irony. For example, Irene in "The Lady of Letters" believes that corresponding is every citizen's right. She had no life and no social life until she was imprisoned for harassment. The irony is that as soon as she is in prison, we see her become a changed person. She starts to enjoy life, her life becomes fuller and she starts to feel alive.
She is one surrounded by other women, marginalised by society until she finds herself.Similarly, Graeme in "A Chip in the Sugar" is a middle aged man who retreats to his bedroom when he is depressed. He is lonely and he substitutes socialising for pornographic magazines. He also suffers from self-delusion and believes that his mother needs him.
The irony is that the audience can see he depends on her.Section 3In an ordinary play or short story characters present themselves through actions, from description of speech, clothing, body movements, from how they express themselves and from how they act towards other characters. However, Lesley's monologue depends on the narrative voice. Lesley has one voice but she brings in other characters whilst telling her story. She acts out conversations that take place with other characters and from this the audience can see how she is perceived by other people because she takes on their voice, expression and body language.
Bennett creates the effect of a short story with a single voice that does not admit to or realise to what we as an audience can easily see. Whilst Lesley believes that she is a sophisticated woman, the audience thinks that she is gullible and naive. Lesley tells the audience the joke that Terry told her- "Why is making a film like being a mushroom?' I said 'Why, Terry?' He said, 'they keep you in the dark and every now and again somebody comes and throws a bucket of shit over you.' She tells us that she said "That's interesting, only Terry, they don't grow mushrooms like that now.It's all industrialised." She doesn't understand the joke and we know that Terry has realised how naive she is when Lesley tells us that Terry said "You sound like a cultured person, what say we spend the evening exploring the delights of Lee-on-Solent?" Lesley thinks that he really believes she is a cultured person and this shows her naivety as the audience know he is just trying to take advantage of her.
That is exactly what happens but Lesley can hardly admit it to herself and subtly says "His rooms nicer than mine. His bathroom's got a hairdryer" whilst turning her head. Daphne Turner, author of 'Alan Bennett: In a manner of speaking' says, "Talking Heads famously betray what their minds do not know and they cannot admit to themselves".Another example that shows Lesley's naivety is when she is acting out the conversation she had with Simon.
She said to Simon "Yacht? That's interesting, Simon. My brother-in-law has a small power boat berthed at Ipswich". When she tells us that he replied by saying "Well! Snap!" we as an audience know that he is being sarcastic as a yacht and a power boat aren't similar. We also know that Lesley thinks he is being serious when she says "Yes, small world!" This shows her naivety as she doesn't catch on that he is being sarcastic.Lesley is a self-deluded character and has lots of misconceptions about herself as a person and an actress.
Lesley believes she is a professional actress but she is really just an extra. She played the unknown Chloe in 'Tess' and all she had to do was sit on the back of a farm cart. She also had a small part in 'Crossroads' which she does in fact boast about. However, the audience know she is not a professional and the repetition of the word "professional" actually undermines her and makes people have the opposite opinion.The audience can see that Lesley is lonely and unloved.
She only mentions her friends once and she has no interaction with people outside of work. Despite all of this, Lesley still believes she has a good social life and even says "my hobby is people". The audience do not believe her as we know that she has very little interaction with people and that work is her life. We also know that the people at work treat her with little respect and that she doesn't get on with them as well as she likes to think.Another example of Lesley's misconceptions about herself as a person is that she thinks that a man must be gay if he isn't attracted to her.
When she suggested that Travis and the policeman have sexual intercourse but found out that the actor playing the policeman wasn't keen, her reaction to him is "I think he may have been gay too, he had a moustache". This tells the audience that she is insecure and is used to being exploited by men.Lesley's use of cliches shows her literal understanding. When she was talking to spud she said "Thank you, kind sir, but I didn't fall off the Christmas tree yesterday". This shows that she doesn't have a very good understanding as it is the wrong cliche and she should have said 'I wasn't born yesterday'.
Lesley also repeats certain words which lead us to believe that she has a limited vocabulary. She says "chaio" a lot and "transpired". She is trying to give the impression that she is better educated than she actually is and she is trying to make herself sophisticated. However, by repeating words as many times as she does, it actually just lets other characters and the audience know how limited her vocabulary is.Section 4Bennett builds Lesley's world by introducing characters through reported conversation and this is similar to how characters are introduced in a short story.
Lesley is the only character we see but by taking on the different registers of different characters, we as an audience are fooled into believing we are watching more than one character. We also get to see how Lesley is perceived by other characters as when she adopts different registers to introduce different characters it shows the audience how the character said the lines. When she is saying Rex's lines for example, her tone of voice becomes abrupt and it shows that he is rude and difficult. The way she says his line "forget it we're losing the food anyway" shows that he is irritated, impatient and annoyed and that he has no time for her.Lesley also changes her register for Nigel's lines to a harsh tone. When she says his line '"I don't care if you play a championship game of ice hockey, just don't get pregnant" we can see that he is intolerant of her.
Another example of Lesley changing her register is when she says Scott's lines. Her tone of voice becomes rude and abusive. When she says "They knew you had a 38-inch bust" and "Let's face it, dear. You're not used to working" we can tell that Scott is quite brutal with her and doesn't care if he hurts her feelings.Bennett uses "he said" and "she said". You wouldn't read this in an ordinary short story as things like "he screamed" and "he announced" would be used to make it more interesting.
Bennett uses this technique to make it seem more believable and more natural.Even though the monologue is written in the past it is brought into the present for us by a number of things. Lesley uses different intonation and tone of voice for different characters. She changes her register to match the characters register and this makes the audience think that they are watching someone else speak.
Lesley also changes her body language and uses different gestures and small movements when taking on another character. An example of this is when she speaks about having slept with someone. She turns her head away and this shows that she can't look the camera in the eye and that she can't accept what she's done. Also, when she tells us that she shook Simon's hand, she uses one hand as hers and one hand as Simons and shows the audience exactly how she did it.Another example is when she takes on Alfredo's character. She changes her facial expressions and stares into the camera when saying "How lucky lovely Travis had a headache and we had to leave our glittering reception.
I was cross with her then but now my mood has changed" and "there's nothing I like better than making love after killing a policeman. Ha ha". From doing this we as an audience get an image of Alfredo as Lesley shows us how he said it and what he did. Acute observations copied by Lesley give descriptions of different characters personalities.Section 5Like in a short story, the settings of the "Talking heads" monologues give the audience important information about a character and show the physical and social environment of that character. However, settings are much more detailed in a short story as they are used to help describe character and create atmosphere.
The monologue depends totally on dialogue therefore the audience needs to concentrate so the settings need to be simpler.The first time we see Lesley we see her lying on a sun bed with a mirror directly above it and this suggests to the audience that she is seedy and vain. When we see Lesley at home we often see her in a dark, dingy attic room with very little furniture and personal possessions. This shows her dull, ordinary existence which she wants to escape into the fantasy world of film. However, when we see Lesley at work we see her on trashy sets with bright, artificial and brash lights and this reflects her personality. We can see that she is more at home on set than in her own home and this shows that work is her life.
There is very little mention of people outside of work and the people that Lesley works with are the people that create her world. This signifies that she has very little social involvement with the outside world. We often see Lesley looking out of her window and this is like her looking onto the outside world without her in it. The phone also plays a prominent part because it is Lesley's only contact with other people. It is her only social interaction.
Section 6The medium of television gave Bennett the opportunity to use several different techniques- black out, fade and music- all used to signal the end of a scene. In a short story there is a change of environment or a change of characters to signal the end of a scene but there is only one character in the monologues and this is why Bennett has to use the techniques.The first time the camera fades is when Lesley admits to sleeping with Spud. She can't look the camera in the eye and it's as if she cant accept what she has done.
The camera goes to black out when she admits to sleeping with Terry. She does this subtly by saying "His rooms nicer than mine. His bathrooms got a hairdryer". Again she turns her head away from the camera to show she's embarrassed by what she's done. Lesley can't admit to herself what she's done but by turning her head, it lets the audience know that she has slept with him.Throughout the monologue we see many close-up's of Lesley's face.
This is a technique used to create sympathy from the audience. One example of this is when Nigel and Gunther are persuading Lesley that Travis should take off her bikini bottoms. Lesley tells us "I said, 'Nigel. Trust me. Travis would not do that.' Talks to Gunther.
Comes back. Says Gunther agrees with me. The real travis wouldn't. But by displaying herself naked before her boyfriends associate she is showing her contempt for his whole way of life. I said, 'Nigel. At last.
Gunther is giving me something I can relate to." The audience can see how naive and gullible Lesley is. The audience cant understand how she can be taken in by this rubbish and they feel sorry for her.Another example is when she tells us about the night she spent with Gunther.
"Were you pleased with my performance?' He said, 'Listen. If someone is a bad actress I can't sleep with her. So don't ask me if I was pleased with your performance. This is the proof.
' There is a close-up of Lesley when she says "He's a real artist is Gunther." The audience feel sorry for her because they can see her naivety. They can see that she doesn't know he is just trying to take advantage of her and this makes the audience feel sympathetic towards her.