One of the strong suites Alan Bennett has always had is his ability to write convincingly for women. The sort of women a boy from a respectable middle-class Leeds family would have known growing up. When he put these women into his writing they attracted the great and good of acting to portray them. Dames Julie, Thora and Patricia are the ones which spring immediately to mind. They are synonymous with the piece. It is therefore interesting to revisit the work with new faces in the frame. I have seen some of his “Talking Heads” presented with new faces on stage, but we are currently being treated with television presentations, so comparisons are inevitable.
It is a testament to the skill of Rochenda Sandall that thoughts of Julie Walters (the original Marjory) are thrown out of the window immediately.
From the very start it is clear she knows the truth of her husband’s activity, but this performance hides the fact in plain sight to such an extent that the viewer is never sure. That’s another of Mr Bennett’s strengths, taking us round the houses to keep us thinking.
Ms Sandall, in the space of 30 minutes shows us vulnerable, strong, loud, opinionated, frightened and quiet. She manages to deflate before our eyes. Of course, I know she is an actor, that’s what she does. However, it is the quiet skill with which she takes us through these emotions which is impressive.
The production directed by Nadia Fall has a quiet pace and an innocent menace which suits the piece. Lighting is a bit dark at times, but that is a minor observation.
Brought to the screen by producers Nicholas Hytner and Kevin Loader, the presentation was done as an isolation piece on existing studio sets. I don’t think the production team worked in isolation, so many names appear on screen at the end, it must have been an expensive venture, but oh so worth it just to relive the words of the national treasure that is Alan Bennett.
All twelve plays are available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/p08ftkkx/alan-bennetts-talking-heads
Reviewer: Philip Edwards
Reviewed: 6th July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★