Talking Heads: ‘Bed Amongst the Lentils’ by Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett’s Bed Amongst the Lentils is one of the great observational pieces from the master wordsmith’s influential Talking Heads series. It’s a role that Maggie Smith played to perfection in the TV series; so tackling this play is an often-daunting challenge for any actor.

Deborah Kelly holds the attention of the audience and her timing allows the witticisms to breathe.

This version of Bed Amongst the Lentils is produced by West Yorkshire’s Library Theatre Company and sees Deborah Kelly convincingly inhabit the role of Susan, who slowly seeks solace in a bottle of sherry or altar wine, when her choice of tipple has been consumed.

It is a one-women show that focuses on Susan, a vicar's wife (Mrs Vicar) whose life of devotion to the service of a vainly insensitive husband sees her stumble into alcoholism and an affair with a shopkeeper (Mr Ramesh) in Leeds. Worn down by the fact that her life has not turned out as planned and the constant one-upmanship of the parishioners, we see her life slowly unravel over the course of the 45-minute play. There is redemption of sorts, but not from the church or her husband, but from Ramesh, in the storeroom upstairs above his shop.

There is a good pacing to the performance and it allows for the great lines and observations to be absorbed by the audience. The stage is sparsely arranged, with only a table depicting religious paraphernalia to set the scene. The large glass of sherry is used perfectly to evidence Mrs Vicar’s decent into alcoholism.

Even in such a small space, possibly the play could be amplified a bit more to drown out some distractions outside. That said Kelly does of good of projecting herself to make every little nuance of the script to be savoured and enjoyed. She holds the attention of the audience and her timing allows the witticisms to breathe.

This performance is a worthy addition to the many interpretations of the great Yorkshire writer’s work.  

Reviews by Paul Clark

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