Nights in the Garden of Spain & Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet

Alan Bennett
London Theatre Company Productions
Bridge Theatre

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Tamsin Grieg as Rosemary in "Nights in the Garden of Spain" & Maxine Peake as Miss Fozzard in "Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet" Credit: Zac Nicholson/BBC/London Theatre Company

The final Bridge Theatre’s pair of monologues from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads presents Tamsin Greig and Maxine Peake reprising the roles they played earlier on television in Nights in the Garden of Spain directed by Marianne Elliott and & Miss Fozzard Finds her Feet directed by Sarah Frankcom.

Suburbia supports many strange goings-on, it isn’t all banal domesticity behind the neighbour’s net curtains, though what we see here is a little more upmarket, Luke Hall’s videos on the abstract screens of Bunny Christie’s setting for the first play give views through to green gardens.

Gardening is something Rosemary Horrocks delights in. She’s noticed that next door’s magnolia is doing better than hers but didn’t really know them until Mrs McCorquodale came round asking for help because her husband was dead. He was lying there on the floor, blood by his head: she had shot him but Rosemary’s first thought was not about murder but how to get that stain out of the carpet.

Bennett’s mix of the mundane and the moving is threaded through with wry humour in a picture of two marriages: the McCorquodales with their humiliating enforced brutal sex games and the Horrocks devoid of passion with husband Henry not concerned for either the victim or the wife driven to killing but only concerned about the effect on house prices. He wants to sell up and move to Marbella.

Tamsin Greig delivers a beautifully low key performance as Rosemary, gradually bonding with killer Fran, for a time finding happiness and understanding more about her own life, though sticking by Henry as she tackles Spain’s horticultural challenges.

Maxine Peake’s Miss Fozzard is also put-upon, stuck at home nursing brother Bernard who had to give up his tobacconist business when a life of tobacco and drinking led to a stroke that left him incapacitated, speechless and incontinent. She has to do everything for him while he just watches television.

“You can work the remote,” she says, “about time you remembered how to wipe your own bottom.” She wants to get back to her job in charge of soft furnishings. It’s when she changes to a new chiropodist that she feels empowered to do so.

The new man she finds loves his job. “I can kneel at the feet of thousands of women,” he tells her, “and my wife won’t turn a hair.” Her previous practitioner used to rest her feet on a newspaper; this man uses a silk handkerchief. Then things move on a stage: he buys her bootees and somehow their roles get reversed. Meanwhile there is a new carer for Bernard.

This Miss Fozzard is lively and loud, a lovely contrast to the reticence of Rosemary Horrocks, but both plays explore the territory of gender expectations and sex roles in a way that turns prurience into greater understanding.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton