British invasion of museum

Alan Bennett may be a very well-known British stage and screen writer whose films include The Madness of King George (1991) and The Lady in the Van starring Maggie Smith, which featured at TIFF 2015.

But to those of a certain generation, he will always be known as one of the voices—along with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook—behind the satirical stage revue Beyond the Fringe which catapulted him and them to instant fame in 1960.

“I wasn’t born yet,” says actor and Downtown resident Naomi Wright, grinning. Wright will be appearing this month in one of six The Talking Heads monologues. Written by Bennett in two groups of three and first performed for broadcast on the BBC in 1988 and 1998, the monologues are considered by many to be Bennett’s best work.

Cabbagetown resident, director and fellow Brit John Shooter is turning the monologues into some of his best work as well. He produced three of them last year at Campbell House, when they were named in the top ten productions in Toronto for 2014 by Stage Door. This year, he returns to Campbell House with all six from Nov. 3 to 22.

Wright appears with five other actors: Shaw veteran Fiona Reid, Deb Filler, Alex Dallas and Jason Gray along with newly-added cast member Richard Sheridan Willis, who boasts a magisterial resume both in Britain and North America.
“And he was in Doctor Who with Tom Baker way back when,” says Shooter.

The monologues are a series of character studies of individuals who have complex lives and secrets, by turns tragic and filled with black humour—though Shooter notes that the second trilogy is generally darker than the first.

“I feel that a great play is when the comedy mask and the tragedy mask are together, that that is the most satisfying experience to have in the theatre,” says Wright. Shooter adds that “the audience is left reflecting on what they might do in a similar situation.”

The Campbell House museum, with its several smallish rooms, is an unusual venue for a theatrical production but very suited to a production like Talking Heads.

“I did ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf there a couple of years ago, but I first knew it when we did ‘Turn of the Screw’ some years before that,” Wright comments. “It’s such a beautiful set for site-specific theatre: the house becomes one of the characters.”

Born in Nottingham, educated in London and working in theatre since the late 1990s, Shooter has been in Toronto since mid 2012, arriving right after the London Olympics.

“I was going to set up a little theatre company in the UK but ended up coming here because my partner Vicente is a civil engineer,” he tells us. “and he said to me one day, ‘would you be prepared to spend a few years in Toronto?’ and I said, ‘OK…I’ve never been to Toronto.’ I knew it was a very vibrant city in terms of the arts and there’s lots going on. He came a year before me and I came to visit so that gave me a good idea of what was going on.”

All of the cast have British connections, which according to Shooter is why they “get” the characters so readily. Wright’s parents are British. She herself was born in Ottawa and studied at U of T and Sheridan College, finishing her Bachelor of Fine Arts at University of British Columbia.

Wright met Shooter in the fall of 2013 through her former housemate in Little Italy, theatre/TV artist Naomi Snieckus. She is a very new Downtowner. “There’s this one perfect Art Deco old school building right in the middle of all the condos on St. Joseph St., with an amazing roof terrace and a ton of actors live in the building. It was a blessing to find.” She, Guitar and Dog moved in in April of this year, Dog being a recent addition because her sister in North York has very new-born twins. The Talking Heads Monologues run Nov. 3 to 22 at Campbell House. Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. with matinees on Sat and Sun. at 3 p.m. Admission is $25.

For information and tickets, visit or October 2015

Nov 2015