Talking Heads: Playing Sandwiches

Alan Bennett
London Theatre Company
BBC iPlayer
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Lucian Msamati

Under the direction of Jeremy Herrin, Lucian Msamati takes over from David Haig, who played Wilfred in the original series of Talking Heads.

Prima facie, the middle-aged man seems pleasant enough, if rather ineffectual. However, series addicts will already have determined that Alan Bennett likes to concentrate his attention on misfits and outsiders, often with social issues that will provoke distaste and quite possible much stronger adverse reactions.

In the opening scenes, married Wilfred Paterson does seem like an all-round good bloke. He works conscientiously for the parks department and appears as an obliging, friendly type.

However, it doesn’t take much to observe the depth charges that Bennett drops along the way in this play, as the concerned citizen who disproves of so many facets of social behaviour today begins to discuss daily life.

The doubts about Wilfred’s veracity largely consist of inconsistencies in his history, which should quickly leave viewers pondering what else might be missing from his story.

His employers struggled to find any records relating to the liquorice allsorts lover, while there is also doubt about whether he has previously worked as a lollipop man.

The explanation that “I have a familiar face” stretches credibility but, like almost all of these Talking Heads, this middle-aged man is quietly likeable, as is demonstrated by his new friends, single mother Debbie and her seven-year-old daughter Samantha.

Without wishing to give the game away, it is not necessary to get too far through the 30-minute running time before realising that all is not what it seems and nice Wilfred is the kind of menace to society that any mother would fear. The strength of this finely crafted, superbly performed drama lies in our ability to understand his weakness and empathise with him.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher