Taken from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series, ‘Bed Among the Lentils’ is the story of Susan, a vicar’s wife who has turned to alcohol and a nearby grocer to combat the drudgery of her married life and the insensitivity of her husband. Staged by The Library Theatre Touring Company at this year’s Ventnor Fringe, it’s a one-woman monologue and one of the series’ better-known tales, in this instance brought to life by Deborah Kelly.
It’s a comic piece, there can be no denying that, but the comedy is a mechanism employed by Susan to mask her increasing dependence on alcohol; “apparently” is a word used frequently as she recounts her daily life, and this gives the impression that Susan’s life is not wholly her own, that she is defined instead by the man she married and his profession, and by what the parishioners think of her.
Although wine (communion, largely!) and other such tipples are a common theme, they are referenced often just in passing – does Susan know she’s an alcoholic? Or is she just in denial? Hard to tell, at first, and that is largely down to Deborah Kelly, whose dry delivery blurred the lines between comic and tragic as Susan’s life seemed to spiral out of her control, culminating in an affair with the local grocer.
It’s tricky to capture an audience’s attention by yourself, and to hold it for 45 minutes with something so simple, but Deborah kept everyone’s attention glued to Susan and her story. The right actress is so important in performances such as these, and everything about Deborah, from her posture to her mannerisms to the long-suffering sighs over the vicar’s ‘fan club, demonstrated exactly why she was the right actress for the job.
‘Bed Among the Lentils’ isn’t high drama or laugh-a-minute comedy or gut-wrenching tragedy. It’s reality. It’s everyday language, crass humour, simple dilemmas and complex ones; not life or death, just life, in all it’s raggedy glory. It voices the fears of many, even now, whose lives haven’t quite gone the way they planned, and it’s timeless. The names may change, the places, the economic climate, the political landscape, but the humanity at its core will never change…