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BRIGHTON FRINGE: Bed Among the Lentils by Alan Bennett – Junkyard Dogs: The Dog House

Creators: Library Theatre Touring Company

Reviewer: Simon Topping

Alan Bennett’s original television series of Talking Heads has just crept over the age of thirty and while a lot of the world he writes about has begun to, or has long disappeared, the monologues remain a firm favourite to perform.

Bed Among the Lentils tells the story of Susan, a frustrated vicars wife, who turns to drink to cope with the boredom of her life and, while avoiding one off licence due to her long-standing debts there, travels into Leeds to find another source of booze. What she finds at the Leeds-based newsagents is so much more – in the guise of 25-year-old shopkeeper, Ramesh Ramesh – and a romantic attachment, of sorts, ensues as Susan attempts to “spice up her life”, to quote a well-known girl band.

It can be difficult to adapt these monologues from TV to a theatre space because, as in this production, the tonal shifts of the piece are lost and the intimacy of delivery intended by Bennett is not reproduced. Kelly gives a solid performance as Susan, she conveys most of the humour and frustration in the character well, but her delivery doesn’t have much dynamic range and is overly loud at times. There is not enough pause and reflection in her acting.

The staging does not help the play. One table is placed stage right with some candlesticks and a glass of ‘sherry’ on; Kelly moves over to these from time to time but is mostly stood, quite statically centre stage. It would have been nice to see some movement to help with the plays scene and mood changes.

As the play continues we see Susan, with the support of her supermarket lover, tackle her demons, loses her distractions and return to her lot, in a transformed way. Darkly comic and tragically poignant, Bennett is not one for magical happy endings as he knows life is more complex. Susan has a fleeting glory that must end.

Bennett’s lines are full of mastery of observation, a delight to hear. Who else would describe flower arranging as well as Bennett? -“She was throttling a single carnation”. Lots of his classic lines fill the room with loud laughter. He remains a gem among playwrights.

The production, while flawed, is good and worth a watch for all Bennett fans.

Reviewed on 23 May 2019 | Image: Contributed

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