An introduction, by Alan Bennett
In this Introduction to his monologues, Alan Bennett explains why he finds it difficult to explain what Talking Heads is about...
... A playwright is not the best person to talk about his own work for the simple reason that he is often unaware of what he has written. Someone (I think, Tom Stoppard) has compared the playwright confronted by his critics to a passage through Customs. Under the impression he has nothing to declare the playwright heads confidently for the Green exit. Alerted (and irritated by this air of confidence an official of the Customs and Excise steps forward and asks our writer formally 'Have you any contraband?' 'No,' smiles the playwright. 'Very well,' says the officer, 'kindly open your suitcase.' Happy to comply (he has nothing to be ashamed of, after all) the playwright throws back the lid. Whereupon to his horror there lie revealed a pair of disgustingly dirty underpants and some extremely pungent socks. The playwright is covered in confusion: for though these underpants are undoubtedly his and the socks too, nevertheless he has no recollection of having packed them, still less of giving them pride of place on top of his belongings. The customs officer sniffs (as well he might). However, since there is as yet no law against the import of dirty underpants or smelly socks, the officer gingerly puts them on one side and delves further into the playwright's case.
The next revelation is some photographs. These too take the playwright b y surprise. Had he packed them? Surely not. But they are most certainly his: this is a photograph of his father and here are three photographs of his mother and at least half a dozen of himself. 'Rather fond of ourselves, aren't we sir?' murmurs the customs man insolently. The playwright stammers some excuse, only thankful that the snaps are after all quite decent. But his relief is premature because, after sifting through yet more soiled clothing, the customs man now unearths another photograph: it is the playwright again, only this time he has his trousers down, he is smiling and with every appearance of pride he is showing his bottom to the camera. No not only does the playwright not remember packing this photograph, he doesn't even remember it being taken. But this is him; those are his trousers; that is his smile and, yes, that, without question, is his bottom. 'One of our holiday snaps is it, sir?' sneers the customs officer. 'I should keep that covered up if I were you. We all have one, you know.'
And so the embarrassing examination goes on, the searcher uncovering ever more outrageous items -- ideas the playwright thought he had long since discarded, an old marriage, a dead teacher and even a body or two locked in a long forgotten embrace, none of which the playwright ever dreamed of packing but which somehow have found their way into this commodious suitcase, his play.
From The Complete Talking Heads by Alan Bennett. Copyright ©2003 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.
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