25 June 2020, The Tablet

Alan Bennett’s bleak houses


Television

Alan Bennett’s bleak houses

Talking heads, from left: Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Sarah Lancashire

 

A revival of Alan Bennett’s dramatic monologues, Talking Heads, featuring familiar actors of today, provides perfect lockdown television

Talking Heads, Alan Bennett’s celebrated dramatic monologues, are surely the perfect lockdown television viewing (currently streaming on the BBC iPlayer, and on BBC1 every night until 5 July). One hour each of straight-to-camera (straight-to-viewer) intimate one-hander conversations, they are slow-reveal character sketches that disturb and discomfit. Bennett’s characters’ external universe may be genteel, conventional and suburban – but below it there are deep moral and sexual fractures.

To the original 12 Talking Heads (six of them from 1988 and six from 1998) have been added two new ones, written by Bennett just before the current crisis began: “The Shrine” and “An Ordinary Woman”. The starry line-up of the first broadcasts (with performances by Penelope Wilton, Eileen Atkins, Thora Hird and Alan Bennett himself among a host of other luminaries) has been replaced by an equally starry array of twenty-first-century talent including Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Kristin Scott Thomas.

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