Compiling three thematically overlapping pieces from Alan Bennett’s perennially popular series, director Brigid Larmour’s selection of Talking Heads makes for a quiet meditation on the deadening effects of loneliness and the often-unacknowledged everyday resilience of women.
Larmour sets an unhurried pace, letting Bennett’s characters speak for themselves in a matter-of-fact stream of consciousness that’s equal parts pathos, wry humour, and recognisable if numbingly banal observations. Despite the quality of the performances, the production never quite rises above the stuffy, samey feel of the stories being told.
In the evening’s first piece, A Lady of Letters, Jan Ravens (familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers as an impressionist) wrings plenty of laughs from the story of compulsive correspondent Miss Ruddock, furiously firing off strongly worded missives to compensate for an anxiety-inducing feeling of powerlessness.
In Soldiering On, Ravens skilfully conveys the complex mix of grief, naivety and untarnished positivity of wealthy widow Muriel, uncovering her family’s hidden faults and losing a fortune in the process after her husband passes away.
Meanwhile, in Bed Among the Lentils, Julia Watson captures both the simmering bitterness and the brief, bubbling joys of alcoholic vicar’s wife Susan, escaping the numbing humdrum of her life via a brief affair with off-licence owner Ramesh.
Designer Basia Bińkowska‘s unfussy and effective sets capture the essence of the scenes, each pivoting around a striking centrepiece. A sombrely lit crucifix hanging overhead. Sweeping, gold-flecked drapes. Or the lacy square of a giant net curtain that’s abruptly replaced with the stark concrete grey of prison walls.