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Friday, 29 July 2022

University of 3rd AgeCan You Hear Me Mother? – The Art of the Monologue

Speaker: David Skillen


The guest speaker at u3a Todmorden's monthly meeting on 21st July 2022 was David Skillen, who presented 'Can you hear me mother? The Art of the Monologue'. David said his parents, who both took part in amateur theatre productions, may have sparked his interest in the theatre, where monologues frequently appear.

Monologues and Soliloquies

Monologues have been used for centuries and so have similar pieces of theatre – Soliloquies. David showed the difference between the two with the assistance of Shakespeare – a monologue is directly addressed to the audience, for example 'Now is the winter of our discontent' – used to rally people in 'Richard III', whilst a soliloquy is thought, rather than spoken, as in 'To be or not to be', from 'Hamlet' – which the audience, but no one else in the actual play can hear – heard through the 'fourth wall', an imaginary wall that separates the story from the real world, the term originating in the theatre.

This continues today with many short phrases, perhaps soundbites, particularly by MPs. Images of politicians over the last century were shown, and the audience members were able to say what each MP was famous for saying.

Speaking 'on the stump'

Even further back in time, politicians, both established and potential, made speeches 'on the stump'. This was quite literal, as the speaker would stand on a tree stump and deliver the same speech in each town and city visited.

One of the most famous speakers, although no-one in the audience could name him, was shown on an image. The man pictured in a smart suit was Davy Crockett, the 'King of the Wild Frontier', who was a Congressman for Tennessee in the 1830's. As well as speaking 'on the stump', Crockett wrote a speech on 'how to give a stump speech' which included tips about kissing babies, promising all that is asked, and more than was asked … 'because promises cost nothing, therefore deny no-one that has a vote a promise' In 1835, Crockett failed to be re-elected, and left the state with the words 'You can all go to hell – I'm going to Texas', and died at the Alamo the following year.

The actual idea of speaking 'from the stump' came from, to not much surprise, snake oil salesmen, who promised any number of benefits and cures from their wares. Abraham Lincoln also used monologues to get over his points, and deliver a message, frequently beginning with the words 'That reminds me of…'

More monologues

David read more monologues and told us about the people famous for delivering them. He started by reading one called 'Over the gate', in the style of Bernard Miles, a character actor. This was a favourite of David's, as he recalled holidays to Norfolk where his father would recite the monologue, much to his mother's annoyance, following up with 'The Day War Broke Out', most famously connected with Robb Wilton, a British actor from the 1920's and 30's.

Two more monologues written by Stanley Holloway followed, including 'Albert and the Lion' and 'Sam Small' – we all recognised the recurring line 'Sam, Sam – pick up thy musket'. Many of the monologues from Holloway were co-written by Marriot Edgar, a script writer who also wrote for radio – and was the brother of Edgar Wallace, the crime writer. Before finishing with 'Albert and the Lion', David revealed that Wallace (the lion who 'swallowed the little lad whole') actually existed, and had killed two people – one of whom reached inside his cage and patted him on the head. He was one of the first Lions to be brought into the country and, after taxidermy, his body can still be viewed in a museum in Saffron Walden.

At the end of the presentation David answered questions from the audience, and after a vote of thanks, he was given a richly deserved round of applause for an absorbing, amusing and informative performance.

The next Todmorden U3A Monthly Members Meeting will be on Thursday August 18th 2022 at 1.45 p.m. open to all fully paid-up members at the Central Methodist Hall, Todmorden, when Paul Isherwood will give a talk entitled: '10 years a buff butler'

Not yet a member? You can attend one talk free by requesting an invitation to this zoom event. We're always delighted to welcome new members. Contact details: website at www.u3atod.org.uk or email at info@u3atod.org.uk.

Many thanks to Colin Sanson for this report


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