In the new series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, ten of the twelve are remakes of five of the original six from 1988 and the another five from 1998. Two of the original series’ have not been remade as they required actors over the age of seventy. There are two new ones, written last year and filmed this year under social distancing conditions. One of these new ones is number twelve The Shrine.
Lorna is a woman in her fifties and the monologue starts a few days after she has lost her husband Clifford in a motorbike accident. The police have offered to take her to the scene of the accident, but she does not wish to go. As the piece continues she has decided to visit the place of the accident and then returns regularly, making herself a seat and developing an obsession with preserving the tyre tracks in the grass and the whole area to how it was immediately after the accident. It is where Clifford died, and it becomes her shrine to him.
However, flowers appear that she did not place there and one day a female biker stops and talks to her about the ‘Cliff’ she knew as a fellow biker. Lorna hears about a man that is completely different to the husband she knew. There had already been hints in what the police had told her, and she struggles to integrate the new facts about her partner.
Monica Dolan is an excellent actress and here comes across well as the rather dowdy Lorna. As her convictions about her husband are eroded, her portrayal of Lorna subtly changes from unbelieving, through a strange grieving process and finally woman who appears lighter and brighter, finally moving on from her loss. Most of the speeches take place in Lorna’s kitchen, often to the accompaniment of a cup of tea.
Director Nicholas Hytner uses his years of experience both as a Director and of working with Alan Bennett to draw a sensitive and touching performance from Ms Dolan. However, The Shrine doesn’t have the bite or twists of some of the earlier monologues, so while it is well performed, well directed and enjoyable to watch, it isn’t the best Alan Bennett writing there is.
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: 29th June 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★