I’ve recently read quite a lot of Alan Bennett – possibly as a result of having heard him speak at a recent National Association of Writers in Education conference. I needed to buy The History Boys anyway and I picked up this volume too. On my Kindle I have his Writing Home which I very much enjoyed reading recently on holiday. This contains the original story of the lady in a van, and in fact he read from that at the conference.
I was very familiar already with A Cream Cracker under the Settee as this featured in a text book that I used to use for giving GCSE English tuition. I’m certain, too, that I saw the original BBC broadcasts. I actually think I enjoyed reading them more that watching them. We’re told each time which actor presented the monologue and this with some effective stage directions helps to create a very vivid picture in the head of how the monologues would be performed.
It’s quite hard to define exactly what makes then so appealing. There are several elements I enjoyed:
· The slightly larger than life characters.
· The humour
· The pathos
This particular volume includes an overall introduction by Bennett himself. The stand-alone A Woman of No Importance, and then the collections Talking Heads and Talking Heads 2, both introduced by Bennett. What he says is interesting, though I found the introduction to Talking Heads 2 a little too long.
We have plenty of story and plenty of character in this collection. Here Bennett really shows how these two components are interdependent. There is a good balance here. A Woman of No Importance reminds us of how Bennett’s monologues work. The six plays in Talking Heads gets us used to that effective mix of humour and tragedy and Talking Heads 2 comes in with a real punch with some scenes that are slightly more disturbing.
I read a lot. I’ve found little as engaging as these texts even though I enjoy most of what I read.