When Kathleen cosied up to us

If you're going to spend an intimate evening with a world-famous actress it helps to know what kind of relationship she has in mind. This entails finding out not so much who she thinks she is but who she thinks you are. As we sit, watching Kathleen Turner play Tallulah Bankhead in Tallulah!, sharing boozy reminiscences in her New York apartment, we wonder how on earth it was that we slipped past the liveried doorman downstairs and got in here.

When the famous actress gets to baring her soul, and later on baring her breasts, does she think there are just a couple of us listening in or is she aware that she's in the presence of hundreds? If it's the latter, it's one hell of an apartment. Tallulah is happy to talk to her friends on the phone and happy to talk to her "friends" in the audience. She even offers one of us - as if we'd drifted into a panto - some of her scent. We know she's promiscuous, but there's a limit to the number of different relationships you can have with the same audience.

As the outspoken Broadway star, in Sandra Ryan Heyward's first play, premiered at Chichester, Kathleen Turner gives a raucous, funny, full- blown performance: dirty laugh, generous smile and - when she sings snatches of popular tunes - a touchingly smokey voice. This is the late 1940s, when she was appearing in Cocteau's The Eagle Has Two Heads and Marlon Brando has been fired. From the moment she appears in David Jenkins's luxurious set - piano, dressing table, and double bed in front of a tilted proscenium arch - Turner is keen to impress on us that we are darlings, exciting people, dear friends. Not since Barbra Streisand unburdened her feelings to me (and, OK, 12,000 others) at the Wembley Arena have I felt so privileged. When Tennessee Williams rings up, Tallulah tells him that she's talking to us. They chat for a while. He isn't happy. Tallulah cheers him up by singing "Bye-bye Blackbird" down the phone. So much for Southern manners. She said she had guests. Tennessee should have called back later.

In Michael Rudman's lively production, Turner pours drinks, paces the room, sprawls on her bed, answers the phone, tosses back her blonde hair, and talks of life, loves and VIPs in a voice that's "lower than a foghorn on a tug-boat". We see her before and after a fund-raising do for President Truman. When the phone is silent, snatches of piano filter through the curtain, prompting - along with more swigs of champagne - revelations, jokes and acting tips. Her mother, we learn, was the most beautiful woman in Alabama. She died giving birth to Tallulah, and Tallulah's father, the Speaker in the House of Representatives, could never forgive his daughter. Here champagne performs the same facilitatory role as Professor Anthony Clare.

Heyward fillets most of the best lines from the biographies and memoirs. Some are very funny. Bankhead, who described herself as "pure as driven slush", defends her bisexuality on the grounds that there aren't enough men in New York. But if I didn't warm to Heyward's play - in spite of Turner's forceful performance - it was because the format was phoney. The false chumminess of the one-way conversation she has with the audience ("Let me ask you something ... "; "Where was I?", "Am I talking too much?") lacked the candour of its subject.

Forty-two years ago Peter Hall directed an unknown play in a small theatre off Leicester Square which was dismissed by Bernard Levin (among others) as "twaddle". Last week at the Old Vic, Sir Peter returned to Waiting For Godot, the play he introduced to the English-speaking world. Without having seen the original, I'm confident the main difference between the productions lies in the audience. This time we have been well briefed. We are in on the joke from the start.

For the first 20 minutes of this splendidly clear revival, the dishevelled duo of Vladimir and Estragon score more laughs than Felix and Oscar do in The Odd Couple. We find ourselves watching a recognisable domestic relationship, like a stale middle-aged marriage, where every conversation has been had before, but that doesn't stop either side from going on and on. We respond to this immediately - drawn in by the compellingly interdependent relationship established between Alan Howard (Vladimir) and Ben Kingsley (Estragon). Both adopt Irish accents, locating Beckett's play in a literary tradition, if not in an actual place. The Good Book is the "Boible".

Howard has the bruised tenderness of a man nursing a hangover. He sucks in his body, recoiling from imaginary blows, his lowered eyelids giving him the distant gaze of an actor in a Western. The tremulous musicality of his voice ensures that nothing is thrown away: at times he might be leading the responses at Evensong. Kingsley is more at home with the snappy reversals of Beckett comedy. He has an innocent beadiness, a small man's rapid intensity - almost a Chaplinesque sprightliness at times, as he shadow-boxes enthusiastically while Vladimir takes a leak off-stage. They are well supported by Denis Quilley's spruce, finger-wagging Pozzo, and Greg Hicks's puffing, salivating Lucky. For all its originality, you wonder as Godot progresses, or rather doesn't progress, whether Beckett hasn't reached some kind of bleak outpost: one that narrowly separates "less is more" from "less is less".

Terry Eagleton's Disapperances, which opened last week at the Salisbury Playhouse, is about the competing claims made on a disting- uished if drunken Afro-Caribbean poet (played with Wellesian gusto by Rudolph Walker). It deserves a wider audience than the dozen or so who saw it with me. Eagleton, a Professor of English at Oxford University, may sketch in his characters more briskly than some full-time dramatists, but the provocative, paradoxical arguments - which lampoon the sentimental illusions that exist between the West and developing countries - have a welcome breadth. Jonathan Church's nicely cast production has good performances from (among others) Shalonne Lee as the radical daughter, Tyrone Huggins as the politician trying to persuade Walker to get involved with his country's politics ("Presidents are a matter of symbolism. What better job for a poet?") and Michael Stroud as the slyly euphemistic M16 official. Someone should send this out on a tour.

'Tallulah!': Chichester Festival (01243 781 312; 'Waiting For Godot': Old Vic, SE1 (0171 928 6655); 'Disappearances': Salisbury Playhouse (01722 320333).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there