A Certain Age - Twelve monologues from the classic radio series

A Certain Age

From the bestselling author of ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’, a wonderfully funny collection of twelve monologues.

Published February 2010


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In the tradition of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ come Lynne Truss’s twelve bittersweet tales about love, romance, friendship and family. Her six men and six women each have very different stories to tell, ranging from the wife who feels better when her husband disappears to the pedant who undergoes a TV makeover and the swimmer who can’t escape the shadow of her sister…but all are funny, touching and as beautifully observed as would be expected from the bestselling author. Whether describing fathers and daughters, married men, cat-lovers or ‘other women’, she is always brilliantly perceptive.

A Few Words From Lynne

As I write this, the publication of A Certain Age is a month away, and I am beginning to get nervous. The book contains twelve radio monologue scripts, presented just as they were broadcast on BBC Radio Four, in 2002 and 2005, and I have no idea whether anyone will a) like them, or b) get a handle on what the hell they are. Attempting to describe them, I always have to say, “No, I didn’t read them on the radio myself; they were performed by actors” followed by, “You remember Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads? Well, that’s the kind of thing.” This is not an ideal way to describe one’s own work, of course, and I wish I could avoid it: the trouble is, at the same time as the Bennett reference exactly pinpoints the genre (and admits the obvious debt to the master), it sounds appallingly grandiose. The Talking Heads scripts were some of the best things written by any British playwright in the second half of the 20th century. So for me to say that my radio monologues are “like Talking Heads”, is the equivalent of someone saying, “I’ve just written quite a long poem. Ooh, hang on. Do you remember The Waste Land? Well, it’s just like that.”

Anyway, in A Certain Age, you get a vain and superficial mother whose tragedy is a child with a touch taboo; a “beardy-weirdy” pedant forced to succumb to a TV make-over; a prissy art dealer thrown into panic by the imminent arrival of his older brother; a female football magazine editor experiencing revulsion when her married-man boyfriend turns up with a suitcase and bursts into tears; and eight more that will all turn out, I hope, to contain all sorts of surprises. Each of these people is about 42 years old (the “certain age” of the title); each is identified by just one relationship (“The Mother”, “The Brother” and so on); and I admit they all sound a bit like me. However, I sincerely hope they aren’t all self-portraits, since that would make me the worst case of multiple-personality disorder the world has ever known. My main feeling for these characters is admiration. Even when you’re appalled by them, I think you have to be impressed by their honesty. There is nothing like hearing people say exactly what they mean.

“I felt trapped. What are you supposed to do when they cry? I mean, I know it sounds selfish, but I was looking forward to this afternoon! I’d been looking forward to it for two weeks! On Radio Five, Manchester United versus Newcastle. Cans laid in. Everything perfect. And now Laurence was sitting on the end of my bed snivelling into a tissue, and I thought – well, I couldn’t help it, I thought, honestly, is this supposed to make me fancy you?”
(The Other Woman)

“Funny now to remember being a kid. Don’t seem real, all that terror. Like it happened to someone else, in the nineteenth century or something, in a cruel northern orphanage. Once, when little Pete was desperate for a pet, see, Dad found out, so he gave me a big rabbit, coz he knew I didn’t care one way or the other. That’s how it worked. [remembers] Ginger! Yeah, Dad gave me Ginger and said I mustn’t share him with little Pete under any circumstances, but I did, and when Dad found out, he was furious and put Ginger in a suitcase and sold him to some geezer up the pub. We were six and four at the time. Pete went mental. But I think Dad done his best, you know, for all that; he just didn’t know what to do with children, except sort-of niggle them.”
(The Father)

Writing for the ear is very different from writing for the page. This means that whenever words such as “tales” or “stories” are used in relation to these monologues, I burst into tears of frustration. “These aren’t tales,” I keep whining. “These aren’t stories. Stories are written; monologues are spoken.” In fact, it seems to me I never stop telling people what these bloody things aren’t. If I don’t watch out, I shall get a reputation for being a Miss Hoity Toity. “They’re not about maleness or femaleness!” I object. “They don’t identify ‘types’! They’re not making a point about anything except human nature!” As you’ll see from the appended questionnaire, when the men’s series of A Certain Age was broadcast in the summer of 2005, I was actually asked, “Did you speak to any men?” – and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. One newspaper asked me to write a piece to promote the series, and the subjects they offered were, “What’s wrong with men in their forties?” and, “Why I prefer toy boys”. I replied that I’d be everso happy to write a piece about the magic of radio, which smartly put an end to all discussions.

What is so frustrating about all this miasma of misunderstanding is that the monologue form is so utterly direct and simple. It’s a person just talking straight into your ear, describing events as they unfold, and drawing you right into their world – a place that is not necessarily a comfortable one, but has its own internal logic. For the writer, it’s the purest means of delivering a three-dimensional dramatic character, while also (in my experience, anyway) being one of the most difficult ways of delivering a plot. But the most important aspect of it is that the monologue is, above all, a vehicle for an acting performance, which is why I’m so thrilled that, to mark the publication of the book, BBC Audio is re-issuing the women’s series as commercial CDs, and releasing the men’s. A library edition of all twelve recorded monologues will also be available, presented in the order they appear in the book. Here’s a list of the fantastic cast, to whet the appetite.

The Brother…………………………….Simon Russell Beale
The Wife…………………………………Janine Duvitski
The Son………………………………….Robert Glenister
The Mother ……………………………..Siobhan Redmond
The Father……………………………….Douglas Hodge
The Daughter……………………………Rebecca Front
The Married Man………………………..Stuart Milligan
The Sister………………………………..Lindsey Coulson
The Husband…………………………….Peter Capaldi
The Other Woman……………………..Lesley Manville
The Pedant………………………………Stephen Tompkinson
The Cat Lover…………………………..Dawn French

Both series of A Certain Age were produced by Dawn Ellis, from the BBC Light Entertainment department, and she worked very, very hard on the scripts with me. I can’t remember how many tear-stained, half-baked drafts of “The Father” she valiantly endured over the month that I grappled with it, but I do know she is to be congratulated for never uttering the words that must surely have been in her mind throughout: “What’s wrong with you, Lynne? Why don’t you just get this right?”

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  • Witty, fluid, wonderful.

    The Times on A Certain Age
  • It will be one of the year’s dramatic highlights. When a talented writer, a sensitive director and a terrific actor get together on radio, nothing can touch it.

    Observer on A Certain Age
  • Beautifully observed glimpses into forty-something men’s lives. The writing is just as sharp as when she wrote about women…Truss is simply a huge talent. Douglas Hodge draws out every ounce of grief, anger, fear and love.

    Guardian on A Certain Age
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  • See All Reviews

    • Lynne Truss is a writer with a rare combination of wit and insight.
      Radio Times
    • Top quality writing
      Sunday Times
    • As in many of the best monologues, a different, darker story lies behind the words being spoken.
      Martin Kelner, Daily Mail
    • Deliciously rich in plot twists and character surprises. Splendid, funny, sly monologues Sharp, funny, original. Sharp observation is happily married to a bracing sense of the ridiculous
      Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph
    • Truss manages to nail an acute insight into the male psyche and the impossible complexities of the grieving process.
      Time Out
    • [Douglas Hodge’s is] a beautiful performance that, I’m prepared to bet good money, will make you cry.
      The Times
    • Anyone who has caught her Radio 4 series of monologues, A Certain Age, knows that she has an impeccable ear for dialogue and the entangled poignancy and farce of the human condition.
      Anne Simpson, Glasgow Herald
    • Lynne Truss follows up her brilliant series of interconnecting monologues for women with an equally dazzling series of six for men…Sad, funny and, of course, exquisitely written.
      The Daily Mail
    • Warm, witty monologues. A beautiful and sympathetic piece about a life lived in aspic (on “The Daughter”)
      Daily Mail:
    • Witty, fluid, wonderful.
      The Times
    • Magnificent series
      Radio Times
    • Lynne Truss [is] a writer with a rare combination of wit and insight
      Radio Times
    • Beautifully observed glimpses into forty-something men’s lives. The writing is just as sharp as when she wrote about women…Truss is simply a huge talent. Douglas Hodge draws out every ounce of grief, anger, fear and love.
      Guardian
    • LISTENING to plays or serials on Radio 4 almost always sets my teeth on edge. The actresses have such, well, actressy voices. They may be playing a stay-at-home wife or a barrister or a writer, but all they manage to sound like is a drawling luvvie. I simply can’t suspend my disbelief. So hurray for Lynne Truss! I bought a CD set of the monologues she wrote for Radio 4 called A Certain Age and have been listening to them in my car. Not only are they sensationally well written — funny, poignant and beautifully observed — but they are also believable because they are spoken naturally by normal-sounding people. Could some producer please inform the Radio 4 actresses that most of us speak conversationally, with hesitations and ordinary inflections? Unlike them, we don’t deliver stagey speeches into microphones. If they can’t be natural, they could at least act natural. Lynne Truss’s narrators did.
      Mary Ann Sieghart, The Times
    • Once again another of Lynne Truss’s half-hour monologues provides one of the week’s listening highlights…Truss’s typically witty, wise and barbed script is matched by [Peter] Capaldi’s performance.
      The Times
    • It will be one of the year’s dramatic highlights. When a talented writer, a sensitive director and a terrific actor get together on radio, nothing can touch it.
      Observer
    • A wonderful series. Witty, fluid monologues
      The Times
    • Douglas Hodge is exceptional … an acute insight into the male psyche and the impossible complexities of the grieving process.
      Time Out
    • Dazzling series…sad, funny and, of course, exquisitely written; superb; finely crafted; brilliant series
      Daily Mail
    • If A Certain Age had been written by Alan Bennett it would now be a TV series and available in attractive boxed-CD gift sets.
      Sue Arnold, Observer
    • wry, bittersweet, unexpected revelations, ripples below the surface
      Sunday Times

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