Some monologic plays work on the stage. Some television shows work on the stage. Talking Heads falls into neither category. Lighting changes, shifts of position, wanderings off and on punctuate the three pieces, but can't be said to ravish the eye. Bennett and Patricia Routledge pitch themselves expertly, of course, refraining from overplaying – which again emphasises the non-theatrical essence of the project (except that here they have to wait out audience guffaws). We laugh, and are a little touched, but not at all challenged or engaged – this is familiar, reassuring.
Too reassuring: the prejudices that raise comfy titters are so mired in Bennett's network of norms and anti-norms (people are bigoted, but still cuddly) that it amounts to unintentional collusion. To point towards the South Bank and his "grown-up" work is mere special pleading; Alan Bennett is in danger of becoming – almost – the acceptable face of John Osborne. In all respects, Talking Heads is a placebo. Bottom-price tickets cost more than a month's TV licence: tape the repeats next time round, just don't kid yourself it's theatre.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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