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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
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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.

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Solid, unfussy revival of Alan Bennett’s still moving monologues