Number nine in the new series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is a remake of the 1998 monologue Nights in the Garden of Spain. Originally featuring Penelope Wilton, it is now Tamsin Greig’s turn to recreate Rosemary Horrocks. Like the majority of the Talking Heads pieces, Nights in the Garden of Spain is set in Alan Bennett’s semi fictionalised version of Leeds.
It is the 1990s and Rosemary and her husband Henry live in a fairly well to do suburb of Leeds, on a street of mostly detached houses. Henry is keen to sell up and move to Marbella and the passive Rosemary is going along with his choice. But one morning as she is going to the shops, her neighbour Mrs McCorquodale stops her. Her husband is dead and she needs help. It transpires that she shot her husband herself and she is arrested. Henry’s main concern seems to be that the murder doesn’t affect house prices in the area.
As her neighbour goes to trial, Rosemary keeps in touch with her, writing and then visiting. She finds out her name is Fran and after she is sentenced to two years in prison, Fran begins to tell Rosemary of the things her husband forced her to do and the men he invited to watch. One of these men has a strange habit which Rosemary recognises. The friendship between the women develops into a more tender relationship but is cut short when Fran dies of cancer.
Finally, we see Rosemary in Marbella, the death of Fran meaning her return to the passive follower of Henry but now she knows his secret.
Tamsin Greig gives a fine performance as Rosemary. Like many of Bennett’s female characters in Talking Heads, she is a docile, rather plain woman in a suburban setting. But as her relationship with Fran progresses, we see a sparkle in her eyes and a more confident woman emerging. By the end though Greig shows that Rosemary has once more become acquiescent to Henry’s demands but a spark in the eyes shows she is not the same woman she was. Director Marianne Elliott teases the subtlety out of the writing, allowing Greig to shine.
Like many of the Talking Heads soliloquies, Nights in the Garden of Spain, is very much Bennett’s take on the female half of the population, but they are still worth watching for his writing and here Tamsin Greig’s empathetic performance.
All twelve plays are available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/p08ftkkx/alan-bennetts-talking-heads
Reviewer: Helen Jones
Reviewed: 30th June 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★