"Bed Among The Lentils"
by Alan Bennett
by Keith Curran
Directed by Elizabeth Appleby
Stage Manager Flannery Foster
When someone --- Paula Plum, say --- stands alone on a stage and talks, just who is she talking to? Someone else? Herself? The audience? The fact is, in each of the plays that constitute "Plum Pudding" there's a different answer.
Ruth Draper wrote "The Italian Lesson" to be played by herself, as a long series of character sketches she took on tour. In this play Paula talks to her Italian teacher, to three childen and even the children's new puppy, to her cook and her personal secretary, and several people on the telephone --- and in every case the empty air she talks to becomes another person, although the audience never actually hears what all those interlocutors are saying, only the lady's replies.
And this is a lady, a social butterfly giving dinners and going to committee-meetings and tiresome funerals and determined to read Dante's "Inferno" in the original even while her manicurist does her nails. She lives a life in which everyone else is expected either to take her orders, or merely to admire her, so it doesn't matter much whether the people she speaks to have a physical presence or not, does it? But so intensely does Plum meet their gaze that, somehow, they do.
Susan in Alan Bennett's "Bed Among The Lentils" speaks her thoughts, almost as an interior monolog. She's the vickar's wife in a very C.of E. parish asphyxiated by the stultifying round of wifely duties and prim parishoners in service to a God she doesn't particularly believe in. It's enough to drive any serious person to the off-license for a bit of sherry now and again --- and she goes.
There is just enough satire in the first of these plays and ironic wit in the second to provoke laughter. In the first case it's at the self-assured surface life being lived; in the second it's, increasingly, comic relief from the growing awareness of Susan's desperation.
After the act-break, just when you've decided Plum plans to present a very penetrating gallery of women's portraits, warts and all, she talks directly to the audience as Louie, a surviving Siamese twin attempting painfully to adjust, physically as well as emotionally, to the death of his dominant wiseacre of a brother. Here every one of his brother's remembered jokes are edged in acid, and the jerks and tics and grimmaces that accompany every movement and every breath are carefully observed. Plum makes louie's tiny triumphs so compelling as to make one forget she had ever walked --- gracefully, and in heels --- without a pair of parallel-bars to cling to.
Keith Curran's "SideKick" all by itself would be an amazing tour de force. Capping as it does such a wide-ranging variety of styles and emotions, it is a triumph.
Raven Theatrical ought to be proud.
( a k a larry stark)