Customs House, South Shields
The Customs House reaches its fifteenth anniversary this year and is celebrating by reviving some of its past successes, featuring writers who have had a significant impact on the theatre. There are quite a number and - in my very humble opinion! - the best of them is Tom Kelly whose work has been produced at the theatre no less than sixteen times. Talking Tom features four of his monologues, together with two of his poems (for he is a well-regarded, often published poet) which he performs himself.
There are four monologues in this compilation: Elsie and Elsie Rides Again are performed by NE actress Pat Dunn and The Club Doorman and Neighbourhood Watch by Donald McBride.
In Elsie Kelly turns the predatory female situation on its head, for this Elsie, who is determined to marry, is approaching 80. Living in a residential home, she has just lost her boyfriend. This sweet old lady, to whom love comes in her twilight years, tells us the story of this late-blossoming romance and, as she does so, reveals to us gradually just what a monster she is. In the sequel we see her subsequent attempts to get a man and their dreadful outcomes.
Dunn takes us through this gradual revelation of her real character with consummate skill, relishing the subtle innuendo and unfolding of character which Kelly's writing provides for her.
The two characters in the male monologues are equally monstrous in their own way, self-centred and totally unaware of the effect they have on others. Both studies in self-delusion are beautifully handled by McBride.
Kelly is a keen observer of people and is able to capture their essence. The language is everyday but subtle so that, even when we laugh (and there is much laughter in these pieces), we are keenly aware of the sadness beneath, but it's not the sadness of the characters so much as the sadness we feel for lives which are, in so many ways, wasted. For the characters he gives us arouse our compassion, in spite of their monstrosity. It's clever writing, sensitively handled by both actors and director Jackie Fielding..
"Talking Tom" runs until 20th March
Reviewer: Peter Lathan