Belfast Telegraph

How we can draw inspiration from Bennett's woman

By Nuala McKeever

Every career has its pros and cons. If you do an unchallenging office job, you benefit from the security, but you probably don't enjoy the humdrum nature of the work. If you labour outside, you get to be in the sunshine and fresh air when it's nice, but you gotta thole the wind and rain when it's not. Swings and roundabouts.

My own choice of career has just such light and shade. On the one hand, there's the insecurity of not knowing where, when or if I'll ever work again. This happens after every project and is a feature of making a living in the creative arts. On the other hand, there are periods of unparalleled joy and excitement, when the work in hand is a delight.

I'm in that part at the moment. Rehearsing two of Alan Bennett's famous Talking Heads monologues, which I'll be performing next week (Tuesday to Saturday, February 17-21, at the Courtyard Theatre, Ballyearl, tickets from the Theatre at the Mill box office, in case you'd like to come along ...).

Alan Bennett's writing is just sublime. I know that's a bit of a boke word at times, but it's so appropriate in this case. This man doesn't have a single wasted syllable in his writing.

So precise is the choice of every word, it's like a musical score in language. The language soars and dips and insinuates itself into the listener.

I can't wait to perform Her Big Chance and A Lady of Letters next week!

They were written maybe 20 years ago but they are timeless. In A Lady of Letters, Miss Irene Ruddock spends her days keeping an eye on things from behind the net curtains, reading the paper and, above all, corresponding with all and sundry about every detail of life.

Pointing out failings in the Crematorium's smoking policy; alerting the Queen to some dog poop outside Buckingham Palace; drawing her local MP's attention to the danger of policemen wearing spectacles. She is lonely. The pen and the window are her portals onto the world. She is addicted to observing and judging.

Unfortunately, she brings a fixed, suspicious mindset to her observations, so that, every so often, she infers things that aren't remotely true and she interferes, causing upset and outrage.

How very like the homelife of so many of us now.

We don't twitch the nets so much, but the thumb goes a dinger across the smartphone screen as we scroll up through other people's lives, making mental judgements based on what we've already decided is the right way to do things.

We infer all the time. We seethe, we comment, we snipe, we criticise. Mostly from behind the window of our handheld device. We don't twitch, we tweet. But the tendency to comment without ever being involved is the same.

We don't cross the road to check if the young couple opposite actually are being cruel to their child. We just assume from the comfort of our armchairs.

We don't get to know what the lives of the people we talk about are really like.

We are becoming more and more remote from each other's experience, living at arm's length.

It's all an attempt to control, so we'll feel safe.

But, as Irene discovers, happiness doesn't come via remote control, it's only possible when you're right in the whole messy business of life, with both hands on.

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