Bed Among the Lentils at the Royal Oak Settle, 31/03/2017. Settle Stories Spring Events Season
Reviewed by Gill O'Donnell for The Craven Herald and Pioneer
Vicar's wife, Susan, is not a happy lady. She is trapped in a situation which is demanding and in which she clearly feels she not only doesn't fit but will never fit. As always, Alan Bennett's observations are both wry and yet not without sympathy so that the audience feels drawn towards the central character and shares in her sly digs at "the fan club" which surrounds her husband but also is able to recognise her own situation and question how much of it is of her own making, something which she initially cannot do. Olivia Olsen produced a real tour de force, not only in terms of the gargantuan task of learning the script but also in the way in which she brought out every nuance of the language so that every gesture and facial expression added more to the layers of characterisation. Susan is a complex character, institutionalised by her role as "Mrs Vicar" and then later by her role as "an alcoholic", she is only able to reveal her true self when drunk and then when robbed of that prop she becomes lost once more. The question and answer session at the end of the performance provided a number of fascinating insights into the work which is required to lift text from the page and to bring it to life in such a vivid way and the skills required to interpret not only the words themselves but also the way in which phrases are written to show where silences are important indicators to character. In this respect the performance was certainly a masterclass in interpretation, for there are points when the silence and pause is far more eloquent than any words when illustrating the power of an emotion such as the simple pleasure of being able to reach out and run her hands through the lentils around the makeshift bed in the store. Some of the most memorable moments come from Susan's descriptions of her husband and church life, many of the characters can be found in other institutions and it is this which make the barbed commentary so appealing and this is particularly enhanced by the way in which Olivia Olsen is able to capture the various voices and gestures of the Mrs Frobishers of this world! On the surface this was an undemanding and pleasant evening, but it did pack sufficient punch to leave you thinking the next day about just what might be bubbling under the surface of small town life.