dfp_header_hidden_string

Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Talking Heads review at Octagon Theatre, Bolton – ‘an unfussy revival’

Cathy Tyson in Talking Heads at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton Cathy Tyson in Talking Heads at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton
by -

It’s 30 years since Alan Bennett first wrote the wry monologues that would become Talking Heads. They remain captivating in their depictions of lives lived – or often endured – but they’re also beginning to feel a little like period pieces, all tea with mother and transistor radios behind net curtains.

Director Ben Occhipinti’s unfussy revival does little to counteract this. The format – three separate stories told in the same setting – means comparisons and connections are inevitable. In the first half, A Chip in the Sun and A Lady of Letters do feel a bit too thematically similar: Graham (David Birrell) in the former and Irene (Cathy Tyson) in the latter are both on tablets, both middle aged, both battling with personal demons and inadequacies.

Birrell could be Alan Bennett if he sported glasses, and he has a fine feel for the the Yorkshireman’s cadences and rhythms. Tyson, meanwhile, skilfully takes Irene on a journey from stilted busy-body to enlightenment and freedom. Naturally, being an Alan Bennett story, this only happens when she’s in prison.

Of the three stories in the second half, A Cream Cracker Under he Settee is the most reflective and emotionally charged. Sue Wallace is wholly believable as the elderly Doris looking back on a simple life marked by hammer blows.

Though it might appear cosy on the surface, with easily made jokes and nostalgic asides to better times, Liz Cooke’s fantastically jagged terraced house set underlines the fractured nature of the characters’ lives. This and the honking brass of the soundtrack are the only hints at something more challenging.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Verdict
Solid, unfussy revival of Alan Bennett’s still moving monologues
^