女大学生的沙龙

Review

女大学生的沙龙: Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, episodes 4 and 5, review: Jodie Comer struggles with the dusty script

3/5

Not two of Bennett's best monologues, with the Killing Eve star stuck with script that is past its best

Jodie Comer in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads: Her Big Chance
Jodie Comer in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads: Her Big Chance Credit: BBC

In reviving Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (BBC One) the BBC has found a series perfect for lockdown. No need to worry about the two-metre rule here, with a cast of one. But not all of them are perfect for the year 2020.

Her Big Chance was the first misstep of the series. Here was Jodie Comer, actress of the minute, struggling with a script preserved in aspic. It just seemed plain odd to? have Comer’s character, Lesley, talking about a “fork lunch” in an episode of Crossroads.

The dated feel wasn’t just in the little details. Lesley wore a pair of acid-wash jeans, anchoring the episode firmly in 1988 (when it was first shown), yet she spoke with an accent that sounded more from the 1950s. I get that she was playing an actress putting on an ‘actressy’ voice, which was gradually stripped away, but it was still not quite right. And then there was the central storyline,? in which Lesley was cast in some sort of soft porn film. Sorry to say it, but the idea of soft porn now seems weirdly quaint.

Julie Walters was a decade older than Comer when she played this role in the original broadcast. She gave it pathos and comedy, beginning as a bubbly optimist; Comer played Lesley as mournful from the start, so there was little sense of the character being brought low.

Lucian Msamati in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads: Playing Sandwiches Credit: BBC

Playing Sandwiches was more successful. Lucian Msamati played Wilfred the park keeper although, where some of Bennett’s work has the element of unpleasant surprise – the truth about the family that lives over the road from Irene in A Lady of Letters, for example – Playing Sandwiches signposted early on that Wilfred was a paedophile. All those references to “kiddies”.

Msamati did his best to keep things ambiguous for as long as possible, an unreliable narrator with a benign expression. But the final act also lacked the power of the original, in which the camera cut to David Haig’s bloodied face in his prison cell. In truth, these were never Bennett’s strongest monologues. Perhaps, by kicking off with the impeccable Imelda Staunton in A Lady of Letters, the BBC simply created an impossible act to follow.

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