It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and for QE2’s Talking Heads, Covid-19’s silver lining has been a new and innovative reprise of the original 2018 tour. The essential difference in the new production is that it is done in the round, necessitated by social distancing. And very well it works too.
The CC Amstel is a nice little theatre and for this show half the audience were in the conventional seating and the other half arranged in chairs in a semi-circle around a raised playing area on the stage.
Now, Mark Winstanley has a fine body and I am sure that under normal circumstances Alan Bennett would agree, but I’m not sure he’d approve of it being displayed quite so ostentatiously and full-frontally in A Chip in the Sugar.
The repressed Graham is so far in the closet you can almost smell the mothballs and it is quite believable that he would strip off when he thinks he is alone in the house to drool over and seek solace in the magazines he keeps under the bed. This involved a completely new, not-in-the-original-play element, almost like a ballet sequence in an old Broadway musical. But I will not dwell on that too long, although I am sure there are those who will.
Mr Winstanley is ideal casting for poor Graham, destined to lead a lonely life up north with his ageing mother, a semi-senile eighty-two year-old who thinks having a cup of coffee is a big adventure. When a dapper old flame of hers turns up with his shiny Rover 2000, promising day trips to Ripon and much more besides, the insecure Graham fears for his future, and this the crux of the story.
The other half of the double bill is A Bed Among the Lentils reprised by Loveday Smith, in a role created by her namesake Maggie in 1988. You may think that would be a hard act to follow – albeit after thirty-three years – but Ms Smith (L) does it magnificently. This performance was a giant leap forward from her already excellent rendition in the original QE2 production a couple of years ago. Her non-shirking performance was both nuanced and bold, painting Susan’s sad life in many shades of grey. Grey because that is the colour that the vicar’s wife’s life certainly is. She is unfulfilled, frustrated and bored and takes her solace in the bottle. That is until a more stimulating alternative presents itself in the shape of Ramesh, a local corner-shop owner who seduces her in a bed among the sacks of lentils in his storeroom. But it is Loveday Smith that seduces her audience with a tour de force performance – one not to be missed. Michael Hasted 27th August 2021